I’m worried that being physically active will impact on my benefits.
John is 59 and lives in Teesside. He has cerebral palsy, asthma and was recently diagnosed with degenerative spine disease, but this has never stopped him from being physically active and pursuing his greatest love – cycling.
When he was 6 years old, John was given a bicycle by his Dad. “It opened up the whole world for me”, he says. “Having a bicycle gave me a sense of physicality and freedom”. For John, cycling not only built up his confidence, but it also gave him a sense of independence he’d never had before. “The day I got my bike was the day I became an independent person”, he states.
In 1986, John cycled across Great Britain and Ireland with friends, raising money for the disability charity Scope. Indeed, for nearly all of his adult life, cycling has played a big part in shaping John’s identity. For John, like many other disabled cyclists, cycling has always been easier than walking, and he considers his cycle to be a mobility aid. And, just like others, cycling has always offered John a way of staying physically active.
Four years ago, however, this all changed and John suddenly stopped cycling. When a neighbour started taking photos of him out on his cycle (and knowing that this neighbour’s wife worked for the Department for Work and Pensions [DWP] at the time), John began to worry. ‘If the government knows I’m being physically active, will they start to take away my benefits?’, John would think to himself. The fact that he was not visibly disabled when he cycled, John says, only heightened his fears. ‘What if others see me cycling but can’t see that I’m disabled?’, he would say to himself.
For nearly thirty years, John was in receipt of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and had never thought twice about being physically active. Now that he has been transferred over to Personal Independence Payment (PIP), however, John says that he has already seen his benefits reduced and worries that, if he were to start cycling again, these would be reduced even further. “We (disabled people) already have one foot in the grave”, John says, “and the DWP seem determined to send us 6 feet under”.
John admits that since he has stopped cycling his physical and mental health have deteriorated. But asked how he would feel if he were to start cycling again, John is in no doubt: “I’d probably cry”, he says. “The day I learnt to cycle was, for me, just as important as the day I fell in love”.
John is determined to cycle again, and is now considering buying a tricycle or recumbent.