Friday 29 April 2011

An exercise in losing DLA

This news story scares me. That the story will continue to provoke vigilantism towards us scares me.

The case itself I'm kinda "meh" about. We know that it's impossible to create a fraud-free welfare state. The DWP acknowledge that DLA has a fraud rate of 0.5% (see page 8 of this DWP report) so that means that one in every 200 claimants is a fake and this woman was seemingly that one in 200. It's worth noting that DLA has the second lowest fraud rate of all benefits, the only benefit with a lower fraud rate is the old age pension.

It's the news story that bothers me, the implication that if you can exercise that you're not really disabled.

On days when I'm well enough I swim and go to the gym. Exercise is important for everyone because it improves your energy levels, helps you sleep better and the endorphins are excellent for your mental health. And energy, sleep and sanity are all areas in which I have plenty of room for improvement.

But on top of that I have my impairment-related need to exercise. Osteogenesis imperfecta causes poor muscle tone so by default I'm a weakling. The stronger my muscles are the better able they are to compensate for my crappy tendons and ligaments. So stronger muscles means less joint pain. And then there's the fact that my bones already break easily and immobility has been proven to reduce bone density further. So by going to the gym I'm doing the NHS a favour by reducing my likelihood of breaking bones thus saving their resources to treat me.

Surveillance footage released by the DWP showed the mother of two using the treadmill for 55 minutes at the Spindles gym at Liverpool's Adelphi Hotel.

She was also seen using the free weights, resistance machines and the swimming pool.

OK, I can't use a treadmill. I can barely walk on a solid floor. I can't walk on moving vehicles like trains, I just fall down. Attempting to use a treadmill would be a fast track ticket to A&E. But I do use free weights, resistance machines and I swim. This story is going to make my fellow gym-goers think I'm a fraud.

There's a mass cultural perception that wheelchair users are all paraplegics. I remember once in my stand up comedy days I crossed my legs in the middle of my set. This prompted a heckler to shout "faker! You moved your legs!" (It was actually a good thing. I took him down so brutally that I got the audience totally on my side and had a great gig.) I can't use any gym machines that involve standing up like a treadmill or those things that emulate the actions of stair climbing or roller-blading; but I can and do use machines that work the legs like a recumbent exercise bike and a rowing machine. It would be very easy for someone to make a mental note of my name by glancing at the hosptial-esque paper wrist band they make you wear in the gym (to prove that your membership covered that session and you're not someone who's just wandered in). Then with my name they could phone the DWP's fraud hotline or The Sun's "shop a scrounger" line and accuse me of being a faker because they saw me peddling an exercise bike.

Then there's swimming. As a teenager I swam a lot. I did briefly make it into the GB Paralympic team (for a week and it all ended in tears). I may no longer have the fitness to swim like the clappers but the skill level still resides so I'm a faster swimmer than your average non-disabled person.

I gave up on public swimming sessions because they're so awful. You get people doing doggy paddle in the fast lane. You get people walking up and down the fast lane. You get men with long arms and no lane etiquette swimming butterfly down the middle of the fast lane with no concern for who they smack around which really isn't a good idea when you've got brittle bones. So I joined a masters team (masters = swimming for over 25s) so I can swim in safety because there's a coach overseeing the session to police the lane etiquette. And being coached has the added bonus that you can't just stand at the end of the pool dawdling, you really get some work done.

The other swimmers in the club all seem to be good people and I'm not worried they'll accuse me of being a fraud to the DWP. But at that leisure centre there are 2 pools next to each other separated by windows. Someone in the public session in the adjacent pool could easily see me swimming, get huffy about the fact that the fat disabled dwarf is faster than they are, follow me out to my car and phone the DWP to say "I think the woman who drives AB34 EFG is a faker." The DWP could then check my reg plate against the DVLA's records and track me down.

Getting the exercise I need to keep my skeleton in the shape it's in and not have it get worse already worries me. This story makes exercise that much more scary. Would the BBC really rather I just sit on the sofa and do nothing on the days when I am well enough to function?

Next year will the DWP be reviewing the entire Paralympic team using the television footage as "evidence" that the athletes are too fit to be disabled?

Edit 4/5/11: My gym-going days may soon be over anyway. I just found out that from July my gym fees as a disabled person using my local authority gym will go up by roughly 2000%. That's neither a typo or hyperbole, I didn't mean 200%, no. The London Borough of Camden are putting gym fees for a disabled person up to just under £10 a month from the previous level of circa £6 a year.


  1. It's starting to get to the point we're worrying about celebrating anyone's good days for fear that FB/Twitter are being monitored. And the Evening Standard has TWICE this week referred to ESA/IB as 'disability allowance' with the implication that 70% of people are receiving DLA wrongly because they can work.....

  2. I agree with you Lisa,and made an attempt to make the same points on the comments page of the Daily Express.It seems to me (I speak as a non-disabled person)that if people with disabilities participate in Society to a degree perceived as "normal" they are condemned if they are receiving benefit/allowances;if they stay at home they are the "curtains drawn" type of Osborne's utterances.I think the Government is attempting to redefine disability to an ever restrictive criteria and uses the media to unquestionably view someone receiving DLA and exercising as an obvious scrounger. Unfortunately most people do not know the eligibility criteria and lap this sort of stuff up.Please do not let that deter you in continuing to exercise etc.

  3. Absolutely brilliant piece, Lisa. I think most of us can confess to exactly the same fears, worrying about being seen exercising, doing a little light gardening, or even just daring to be disabled in public. I was out in the garden for a few minutes without my crutches earlier this week to hang out some washing, and someone could easily see me there and let their bigotry decide that that means I am a faker; what they couldn't see was the continuous fight not to fall flat on my face, nor the pain those few minutes caused, and they definitely can't see me now, lying flat on the couch in order to type, because my spine won't currently tolerate anything else, no matter that all I've done today is get up and have a hot bath....

    The truth is that this fear we all feel is a reflection of the amount of ignorant, and sometimes not so ignorant, disablism out there, and that's a very, very scary thing.

  4. Surely this would mean the whole of the Paralympics would be "not disabled enough"? I can say, with 99.99999% certainty that every single person who competes in the Paralympics is more (a lot, LOT more) physically fit than I am. However, it doesn't stop them from being disabled. People need to realise there is a different between "fitness" and "disability".

  5. i agree with you all everyone that claims any type of sickness benifit is frightened they are going to loose it because if you have not gone throgh this people don;t understant soory if this dose not make sense

  6. Paralympians = brave heroes. The rest of us = scroungers.
    How did that happen?

  7. Ah yes, the superhuman-paralympians. What people tend to forget is those athletes are sponsored, sign contracts, and are essentially in the employment of various sports franchises who pay their way to train - provided of course, they actually win. If they don't they're dropped like a hot stone.

    I saw this "article" in the news and also cringed. We're constantly told as disabled folks to get some exercise as Exercise (and work, apparently) Will Cure All Ills, but gods help you if you do! Don't go out, don't buy a new dress, don't attempt to improve your health. Bleuch.

  8. My disabled husband was a few years ago prescribed going to the gym and walking on a treadmill by a GP, amazing how a treatment is now grounds for a conviction for benefit fraud!

  9. It all sucks, we cant do this we should be seen to be doing that, i give up. its my right to live an independent life even if it means getting benefits or dla. im sick to death of it makes me scream in fury hate all who peddle this crap, God take me soon please.

  10. Following a heart attack and other complications I am on DLA. My local health board arranges a 'keep fit' class which I attend once a week, knowing that the next two days I'll be next to useless but that I'll feel 'better' for the benefit of the exercise.

    This article, and the governments constant crusade to mark out anyoe who even tries to get themselves better as a faker and a thief, has really p'd me off.

    Why even bother trying any more if am gonna get filmed, grassed up then branded a thief? Sorry, I'm not worried about losing the DLA, I'm totally s**t scared about being branded a thief for the previous years money. Not in a position to repay it so I guess it'll be jail for me.

    Still, at least they have a gym there. And I'd get meals provided.

  11. Recently the press - including the Daily Mail - has enthused about Eddie Kidd completing the London Marathon after many weeks, walking just a little a day. I take my hat off to the man, it's a great achievement...

    BUT.... if he had not been a high profile individual, don't you think that the Daily Mail would have been quick to scream that he was not really disabled after all? then all the old nonsense would have been published and nobody would have batted an eyelid.

    I really hope that his efforts don't attract the attention of the DWP now.

  12. I have a problems my inner ears and balancing systems and have to challenge this every day. I receive DLA as I fall over all the time. I exercise in the gym, using the treadmill, as I can hold on as I can walk, sometimes attempting to run. Doing hydrotherapy too, as it doesn't matter if I fall over in the pool! But to a lay person this might make me fit and well - they don't see the after effects - me throwing up or falling over. The only way to work your balancing systems is by doing things that make them worse, so staying in the house doing nothing is not an option, I am terrified of being 'reported' but i am also in fear that I will never return to a normal life, which is also possible. I want to cry. I never chose this illness, the DLA is a pittance, if anyone asked if I would choose DLA or benefits over good health and working, I would choose good health every time. I cannot understand anyone ever wanting to choose benefits as a lifestyle.

  13. I have just found this as I have been searching for info about being falsely accused of dla fraud by a spiteful neighbour. She has told people I cannot be that disabled if I can use the treadmill and swimming pool at the gym, plus I once wore "high "heels to a party ( in fact they were block heels with memory foam insoles in so they didn't hurt anymore than any other pair of shoes!
    I'm scared to do anything in case it could be misconstrued as fraud.... I am in constant pain, feel dizzy, queasy and stiff as a board, but people don't see that, it is frightening beyond belief how ignorant and malicious some people are

  14. Thanks for this post.

    It frightens me a lot because I have completely "invisible" disabilities of autism, learning difficulties and mental health issues and am being tested for partial seizures.

    In theory I can move just fine (if you don't count anxiety and sensory sensitivities so severe I struggle to leave my room some days, let alone go out) and I can also just about put a sentence together so people often assume I'm not disabled, even though they have zero knowledge of autism and don't see the effort I'm making all the time and pain I'm putting up with, they just see and judge the end result.

    It's not helped by the media representing autism as either really "severe" or the opposite extreme of someone who is a bit "quirky" but not actually disabled.

    Those of us somewhere in between are screwed.

    Even the medical profession do this. I was recently interrogated (and I mean interrogated!) by a psychiatrist totally ignorant about autism (which is not unusual at all) who couldn't understand autism and made ME feel like a fraud purely because of THEIR ignorance.

    I also got snapped at because autistics present atypically with regard to mental health symptoms, and apparently I'm being suicidal in the "wrong way"!

    What hope is there when even medical 'professionals' penalize people for not fitting disability stereotypes?

  15. Why can't the ignorant people of the general public realise that swimming and other activities are carried out for therapeutic purposes. Without many activities many disabled people would be a lot worse. The government are making a really bad move on allowing the general public to 'squeal' on benefit fraud especially those with disabilities, as many members of the general public are ignorant through no fault of their own.

    This new action of allowing people to inform the authorities of benefit fraud could well cost the government a lot more than they anticipated when appeals exceed unheard of levels.