Britain’s greatest Paralympian, Lady Tanni Grey-Thompson, has warned that disability benefit cuts will affect the development of top athletes and undermine the Games’ key legacy aim of widening access to sport for disabled people.
Grey-Thompson, who won 11 Paralympic gold medals as a wheelchair athlete, said in an interview for the Guardian in late May that Disability Living Allowance (DLA) had been crucial in enabling her and many other disabled athletes to participate and compete. “It’s important to recognise that the cuts will affect Paralympians, who have higher living costs as a result of their impairment.” She noted that, although the very top disabled athletes might get financial help from sponsors, many others would find it difficult to compete if they lost the benefit. “I know someone who is on the edge of qualification who has had her DLA removed. It impacts on her ability to get involved in society, not just sport.”
The government plans to replace DLA with Personal independence Payments (PIP) from 2013. It estimates that up to 500,000 people will lose entitlement to the benefit over the next four years as eligibility criteria are tightened and claims reassessed. Grey-Thompson added that it was not just an issue for elite athletes but would affect the health and wellbeing of thousands of disabled people whose ability to participate in sport would be curtailed if they lost financial support. This would drive up social care and NHS costs in the long term.
The Guardian article noted that Ministers hope an increase in sporting activity among disabled people, and improved wider public perceptions of disability, will be key long-term legacies of the Games. Grey-Thompson is spearheading an £8m Sport England programme, launched last month, that is aimed at increasing participation in sport by disabled people. At present only about 18% of disabled adults undertake physical activity for more than 30 minutes a week, compared with 38% of non-disabled adults.
The paper said that her comments were backed by other Paralympians, including Ben Rushgrove, a sprinter and silver medallist at the Beijing Games; Ade Adepitan, the Paralympian wheelchair basketball medallist, who grew up in the East End of London and the blind rower Alan Crowther, who won four world championship gold medals.
In response, Sport England said challenges facing disabled people wanting to take part in sport included a lack of specialist equipment, transport issues, difficulty accessing sport facilities, poor information about sporting opportunities, and a lack of self-confidence. A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said DLA was outdated and the new PIP support would be focused on those disabled people “who need it most”.