Last week the Prime Minister announced the Government’s new strategy for tackling loneliness.  GPs will be able to refer people experiencing loneliness to community activities.  A process known as "social prescribing". Under social prescribing, funding will be provided to connect patients with activities such as walking groups, cookery classes and art groups.  However, research published recently by the Activity Alliance, reveals that nearly half of disabled people fear losing benefits if they lead more active lives.  The study, entitled ‘The Activity Trap,’ shows that four in five disabled people would like to be more active, as physical activity can help manage pain as well as improving physical health and psychological wellbeing. Almost two thirds of research participants reported that they rely on benefits to remain active.  Without this support they would be unable to afford travel, pay for activities and buy the specialist equipment they need to participate. Nearly half of respondents (48%) reported fearing being seen as too independent to be a disabled person and consequently losing access to benefits such as Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA).  Some participants reported living in constant fear of having their benefits taken away or of being reassessed.  This is even when their reassessment is not due for years.

Alan Ringland, chair of England’s largest disability football league, describes how three years ago the league had 455 players. Over the last three years this figure has dropped to just 250, with many having to drop out because they have lost benefits. Former British wheelchair athlete Carly Tait, describes losing her adapted vehicle in 2016 following her assessment for PIP and how she now lives in fear of her next assessment, which is still some eight years away.

The implications seem painfully obvious! The figures and accounts reported in the Activity Trap would suggest a potential head-on collision between two government policies. If disabled people truly fear that becoming more active will jeopardise vital benefits support, they could ultimately feel forced just to suck up the loneliness and simply suffer in silence.

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