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My gym has hiked fees for disabled users by 2000%. It will save nothing

Exercise plays an important part in preventing me from breaking my bones – but I can no longer afford my gym

I’m disabled and I sometimes swim or go to the gym. If you’ve read any of a million news stories this year that’s probably got you thinking I’m faking my impairment, right? Wrong.

I have a condition called osteogenesis imperfecta which literally translates from Latin as “imperfectly formed bones”. That’s something of a misnomer though because the protein collagen that isn’t formed correctly in OI is actually found in all body tissues, not just bones. So OI doesn’t only mean that my bones break easily, but also that my joints dislocate easily and my muscle tone is poor.

This all results in an impairment-related need to exercise: Immobility has been proven to reduce bone density and my bones already break quite easily enough (I’ve had 5 fractures in the last 12 months alone). Stronger muscles are better able to compensate for rubbish tendons and ligaments.

Imagine your tendons are like a piece of string; they have the tensile strength to support your joints and stop them dislocating and bending in directions they shouldn’t. My tendons are more like old, over-stretched rubber bands; they don’t have the joint-supporting capacity so my joints bend backwards and periodically dislocate. My naturally poor muscle tone doesn’t help matters but I do have the capacity to strengthen my muscles to help them better compensate for the hypermobility.

I am also, of course, human and so also get the same benefits from exercise as anyone else. Exercise increases your energy levels, helps you sleep better, and the endorphins are excellent mood boosters (and let’s face it, with welfare reform making me crazy/crazier than usual I need all the cheering exercise I can get)

So I exercise. Or did. Camden Council used to offer a generous concessionary scheme for residents of the borough in receipt of Disability Living Allowance. For around £6 a year for the membership card you got unlimited access to gyms, exercise classes and swimming pools within the borough. This has now gone up to a cost of £9.95 a month. This is an increase of roughly 2000%. No, not a typo: really 2000%.

They’ve changed the qualifying criteria too. Disability Living Allowance is not an out-of-work benefit. After all, if you need a wheelchair or help getting dressed those needs don’t go away if you get a job; so the benefit to fund that help stays with you too. However it’s now only people on Incapacity Benefit that can access the reduced cost (as I said, it now costs £9.95 a month for a disabled person, the usual rate is between £45 and £50 a month) which means that the only disabled people eligible for the concessionary rate are those incapable of working due to illness.

You might be wondering what I’m moaning about; after all, I still get a reduction in cost compared to a non-disabled person, or a working disabled person. But you have to bear in mind just how little I get for my money in comparison to a non-disabled gym member:

Were my non-OI health problems that prevent me from working resolved tomorrow I’d still have those OI-related limitations but I’d have to pay the same price as non-disabled people who do have full access to all the council run gyms have to offer.

By making going to the gym too expensive for me (the benefits I live on do not have me rolling in stacks of £50 notes, despite what the Daily Mail would have you believe) Camden Council might have saved themselves a few quid, but in the long run they’ve done nothing to pass on savings to the tax payer. Exercise plays an important part in preventing me from breaking my bones and dislocating my joints. By making me more vulnerable to injuries requiring NHS treatment they’re making me more, not less, expensive to the state. Not only is it “mean-spirited,” as one writer to my local paper noted; it is a genuine false economy.

Lisa Egan blogs at Where's the Benefit? and Lisybabe's Blog.

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