Disability, Fitness, Health And The Law


Photo courtesy of Jaxfitness, Birmingham, England

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.

About Missus Tribble

Media volunteer for Epilepsy Action (UK) and advocate for both epilepsy and autism awareness. Would like a Tardis when I grow up.
This entry was posted in Attitudes, Confidence, Diet And Fitness, Disability, Epilepsy, Exercise, Health, Neurological. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Disability, Fitness, Health And The Law

  1. willowdot21 says:

    Dear Rose I am with you on this, I am also disabled, I have broken my back twice, this second time I had three operations. I am in constant pain, I have to rest after twenty minutes of any activity, ie can’t sit longer, stand longer and when out walking I have stop every few yards or so to get through the pain in my hip! I am considered employable even though the firm I used to work for have pensioned me off. I shall no doubt be loosing my ESA soon but hey that is life. My Dr has encouraged me to go to a gym under careful supervision of a trainer on a GP referral, also on advise and again under close supervision I attend Pilates and a deep core class. I was told by a specialist if I did not exercise I would end up in a wheelchair. I try to walk every day even though it really hurts, I do not sleep well as it hurts when I move. The concoction of pills I take often make me sick, or give me the runs or else I am really constipated…. I can’t win. But I try.
    So Like you I have the worry that some one will accuse me of no really being disabled, I have a disabled parking badge which some days is the difference between getting out, shopping or seeing friends.
    I do understand what you are saying this government have put little or no thought into how people like us should be treated.I shall not go into the awful time we had getting me awarded my soon to go ESA but I shall say it was very stressful. I shall not labour any more on these point though believe me I could.
    Please Please Rose try the gym it has helped me so much and they will take great care of you. Your Dr should be willing to stand up for you if there is any trouble with the DWP. Try it Rose it really will help. I hate to think were I would be today with out it. I would be useless.

    • It really is perposterous. This country has become so “1984” that the most vulnerable amongst us are afraid to do anything! I do all of my shopping online because I’m not strong enough to be in town for any length of time, and every time I recieve clothing, pickling supplies, parcels from friends etc I worry that somebody will notice that I don’t leave the house but can always afford things – especially since I’ve lately ordered *lots* of things for the wedding.

      Fortunately D knows our neighbours and they’re all very pleasant as well as being aware of my disability – in fact they have even noticed my slow decline (since I used to walk at least once a day and people became used to seeing me). I can be safe in the knowledge that my neighbours know I’m not cheating anybody, but what about the stranger at the gym who gets friendly to find out more and completely misinterprets my situation?

      • willowdot21 says:

        Dear Rose I do know exactly what you mean and I am always wary of new faces at the gym or my classes. But it is important to keep yourself fit. If I do not keep going I will be in a wheel chair and I refuse to let any government office make be end up like that. Be brave Rose being fitter will not change your situation it will just make it more bearable. They can always test you again and harsh though those DWP Drs are they cannot ague with the true. Be brave Rose I refuse to go back to how I was, I shall never be how I want to be ..no where near but I make the most of what I can! DO it for you. xx

  2. Jojo says:

    Have you tried contacting a representative at a government office and asked them what would constitute you cheating the system when it came to health and fitness? Or are you basing all that you know about it on what you have heard from other people? Because really the government not wanting you to exercise and be healthy sounds kind of preposterous to me. Here in the states, if a person in on Disability benefits, they are encouraged to exercise as long as it’s okay with your doctor.

    • There is so much that the British Government hides from the nation. For instance, when R was diagnosed with autism I didn’t apply for any extra benefit help because I didn’t know there was any – until my application for DLA was successful and the DHSS (as it was at the time) realised they owed me over 1k in back-pay to help me care for a disabled child.

      Since I wrote this a friend has done some digging and come up with an organisation name and number for me to get in touch with to ask advice. I shall definitely be contacting them about my concerns once I’m back on my feet!

  3. katkasia says:

    Bureaucracy – what can you say? It’s nuttier than an insane squirrel with a hoarding habit.
    I think the suggestion above about checking is a good one – do you have a specific contact person for your benefits?

    • When I was seen as fit for work I had a personal disability adviser, who was lovely, but now that I’m *not* fit for work I have someone different who has decided to advise the relevant people that she can’t help me because they shouldn’t be putting me in the category where I might possibly work one day. So now I have nobody.

      However, a friend has done some digging for me and come up with an organisation and a number for me to contact 🙂

  4. Thankyou for sharing your experience. Its appalling that our government is so intimidating that people live in fear of being reported for benefit fraud. You have every right to access health and fitness classes like non-disabled people. I’m not sure if this is helpful but I attend a pilates class run by a trained instructor where some of the clients have been referred by physio for back and neck injuries. It is a small group and is run in a local community centre and whilst it is a musty room the atmosphere is a lot better than being in a public gym or sports centre. I don’t know if something like that could help you?

    • If my doctor can think of a genuine reason to write me a “prescription” for such classes I would be delighted. I became massively overweight whilst I was taking Lyrica for my seizures, but I also had acute tendonitis and was in too much pain to go to the leisure centre for weight loss sessions.

      The weight fell off when I stopped the Lyrica anyway, and so I am no longer overweight. Perhaps he can do it on grounds of helping to improve my balance and coordination, but I’m not sure. I’ll ask him next time I see him 🙂

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