East Dunbartonshire Council and the wrong kind of disabled

12 02 2012

As I’ve blogged previously, East Dunbartonshire Council leisure centres have never been particularly disability friendly, if you didnt fit their idea of disability.

This was first highlighted in 2010 when A.D. was told she would not be allowed to use the sport centre facilities if she didn’t bring a carer. Having a fluctuating condition like Multiple Sclerosis, meant that there would be times she would require a carer to take her twice weekly dip in the pool, but in times of remission, she was able to attend the leisuredrome on her own.  This scenario was not recognised by the centre, and she sent  an FOI request, which went to appeal with the ICO Scotland before a response by EDC was provided. It stated they did not have a specific disability policy in this respect. After this, no one at the council or leisure centre was available to comment on this apparent oversight. This ‘unwritten’ disability policy still stands according to the receptionists I spoke to today.

Today I got talking to another disabled lady, G, who cannot get a family passport to leisure because she is long term disabled and doesn’t receive the right benefits. I have G’s permission to post this story and I have deliberately changed her initial.

EDC passport to leisure benefit entitlement form

list of benefits entitling recipient to passport to leisure

The cost of a family passport, is £16.35, however as G and no one in her family is entitled to employment support allowance, housing benefit, a council tax rebate, income support or working tax credit they must all apply as individuals costing the family £30.60. This is still cheaper than full non-passport leisure card prices and the non-passport family leisure card, which is £37.70. A lot of money on a restricted income, and extremely unfair if you happen to not fit their idea of acceptable benefit recipient.

Child Tax Credit recipients aren’t included as being eligible for family passport membership, as the ageing receptionist told me, “everybody gets those”, and I was informed if G took “the 8 page tax credit award letter” to the receptionist she “could assess if her award counted”.  To me this  was a blatant intrusion of G’s privacy, especially as it was discussed In front of other customers as they entered. G mentioned to me that she was embarrased to discuss her income in public like this and was humiliated by having to do so. Given the attitude of the receptionists on the desk at the time, I can fully understand this. Their attitude was rude, condescending and judgemental. A working person would not have their income scrutinised in public like this. G may be in receipt of welfare beneftits but that does not make her business public property.

I didn’t enquire as to G’s condition as to me it is irrelevant. She was visibly shaken and close to tears by her experience. She discussed her shame at having to live like this and told me she is in receipt of long-term incapacity benefit and DLA and a full Council Tax exemption (not a rebate). She didn’t discuss the rest of her family income but stated her partner wasn’t eligible for carers allowance or other benefits but had very limited income due to his caring responsibilities and worked only casually on a zero hours casual contract. She told me she has missed out on different supports and monies as she doesn’t get Council Tax Benefit but a complete exemption. This seems extremely unfair and is not highly publicised.

I am angry that yet again East Dunbartonshire Council have failed a disabled person and her family wishing to use their facilities. On the very little information I have, she is on the verge of poverty and like AD, her weekly swim was important for her on many therapeutic levels. She couldn’t often afford to take her children to the softplay, where we met and talked about this, but it was a special treat for one of them. With a passport the cost is £1.60 per child, without it cost is £2.90. She told me she hadn’t always been disabled and used to work as a dinner lady in a local school. My old school. I asked how she felt about the changes to disability benefits and she told me she wasnt aware of any changes. I didn’t feel it was the time or place to be discussing coalition policies with her, although I did suggest speaking to citizens advice and reassured her I would be speaking with the manager about cases like hers that fall through the gaps.

I left so very angry and upset for G, knowing she is not the only one caught in bureaucracy and the idea of an acceptable benefits recipient and an unacceptable one. The attitude of the receptionists at the Leisuredrome was not the kind of response I was used to from them, and was quite surprised to hear they are often like that with others. This was not the first time G had tried to apply for the family passport to leisure, it was just the first time someone had dared to ask if she was ok, as she got upset in the softplay afterwards.

I would be interested to hear from others who have had negative experiences with East Dunbartonshire Council regarding benefits or disabilities, while trying to use their leisure facilities.

Tomorrow I call the Leisuredrome manager and ask for clarification on the matter. TBC.

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