My doctor would like me to attend regular courses at my local leisure centre. He’d like to see me rebuild some muscle, improve the shreds of balance and coordination that epilepsy has left me with and maintain a healthy weight (along with stimulating within me a desire for food).
There is, however, a problem. I recieve disability benefits from the government and am not considered to be able-bodied. I’m not able-bodied at all; I walk with a stick, cannot be trusted not to hurt myself on sharp objects and wobble all over the place.
So how, then, would the government view things if I began going to the gym under doctor’s orders?
Here is the bitter truth: they would consider me a benefit cheat, take my benefits away and fine me – because I’m supposedly incapable of doing something that my doctor wants me to do under the close supervision of a trained professional. If it were considered to be physiotherapy that would be all fine and dandy, but it isn’t. The Law would declare in court that I was using my free time and the government’s money to live the life of your average middle-class, middle-aged lady who lunches and turns in to a gym bunny three times a week. I can’t even catch a bus on my own and would need D to drive me to the leisure centre, and then I would have to go into a training session struggling and lopsided because my stick would be in my locker. Hardly the stereotypical smart, toned, ponytailed 40-something who goes to the gym on her husband’s credit card while he’s somewhere flying a desk.
Besides, my hair isn’t long enough for a ponytail, my husband is my full-time carer and not the senior IT consultant that he might once have been and I don’t own a powder-pink track suit.
Essentially, many disabled people (myself included) could be fitter, more able-bodied, more confident and a lot less isolated if they would take their doctor’s advice and hit the gym or the pool in sessions for clients with specific needs.
None of us do, however, because of the risk that we are being watched and will be wrongfully reported for benefit fraud. We remain trapped in our homes, wishing to improve our health and mobility but also far too afraid of possible consequences to risk being seen at a fitness centre regularly.
This is detrimental to our health in the extreme. I, for instance, can no longer stand up from a crouching or kneeling position by myself. I have to take the stairs one at a time, as opposed to trotting up them in the way that people usually do.
The Government of Great Britain needs to realise that people on disability benefits need to be able to use this money to improve their health in the clear knowledge that we will not be penalised. When the disabled are being attacked in the manner we are at the moment, things have gone much too far.