Every one of Britain’s Paralympic squad faces extra living costs because of their impairment, according to the captain of Britain’s blind football team, the latest Paralympian to speak out on the importance of disability living allowance (DLA).
David Clarke, who announced his retirement from football after his team finished competing at the games, said that withdrawing DLA for those with extra costs would “jeopardise the independence of disabled people”.
Speaking on Sunday morning, he became the third Paralympian to talk during the games to Disability News Service about the importance of DLA to disabled people, following gold medal-winning archer Danielle Brown and silver medal-winning boccia star David Smith.
The government’s plans to replace DLA with a new personal independence payment (PIP) and cut spending by a fifth will see an estimated 500,000 working-age disabled people lose their right to DLA by 2015-16.
Clarke said that most disabled people faced additional expenses because of their impairments. “They are not luxuries, they face extra costs. Some form of understanding of that issue needs to happen.
“I might be able to get everywhere with my guide dog, but I can’t spot the offers in the supermarket, the special deals, or take the cheapest mode of transport, jump on a bike.
“There are hidden costs. Computing what those costs are is very difficult… but fundamentally they exist.
“Withdrawal of that additional funding to cover those additional costs, if that is being planned, will jeopardise the independence of disabled people.”
Asked how many Paralympians he thought claimed DLA, he said: “I imagine most receive it. I don’t know what they will get, but I would imagine 100 per cent [of the British Paralympic team]face extra costs, whether they are being covered or not.
“The clue is in the title of DLA: it is ‘living’. This is not about luxuries, it is not about going on holiday, it is about covering additional costs which do exist.”
He said he had no problem with there being a “robust” assessment to ensure claimants do face extra costs, but he said a “proven case” must be made if that support was to be withdrawn.
But he added: “If there are people truly facing additional costs in their lives that able-bodied people are not having to meet, then I think it’s wrong that those cuts should be made.”
He also spoke about the impact of the games on how disabled people are viewed by non-disabled people.
He said he hoped the London 2012 Paralympics would promote “tolerance”, but also stressed that disabled people were “not the only ones living in poverty” and facing social exclusion.
He said: “There are still able-bodied kids living on estates fearing violence every night who aren’t disabled. There is some incredible poverty in this country that is unacceptable in a western economy.”
But he said the most important impact of the games was on the perception of disability sport. “I can’t think of a better vehicle to inspire young disabled athletes than this.
“First and foremost it has presented disability sport as sport. Most of the people viewing it on TV and the overwhelming majority of people watching it at venues have come to watch sport.”
Clarke said he hoped the games would raise the profile of blind football, which had great potential as a TV sport. “There’s dribbling, there’s aggression, there’s skill, there’s communication, accurate shooting… People are initially blown away with the fact that these guys can’t see, but shortly thereafter it becomes a game of football.”
But he did suggest that the sport needed to make major rule changes to recognise the improvement in defensive play over the last four years, which had made it much harder to score goals from open play. He suggested larger goals and a slightly larger pitch.
Clarke was also generous in his praise for Channel 4 and its broadcast coverage of the games. “The job that Channel 4 have done, they cannot be praised highly enough for that.”
He particularly enjoyed Channel 4’s The Last Leg, a comic look at the day’s Paralympic action, presented by the disabled Australian comedian Adam Hills, which became a hit with many Paralympians, and which he said was “just brilliant”.
He also praised the work of the Paralympic sponsor Sainsbury’s, which arranged for three million children to try blind football in the build-up to London 2012.
Clarke, a senior partner with Clydesdale Bank, said he was “comfortable” with his decision to retire completely from football.
He wants to spend more time with his family, but will begin coaching a school year group of 75 seven-year-olds from this weekend, and hopes to move into Paralympic or football administration, hopefully in time for the 2016 games in Rio.
He said: “I am very, very keen to remain involved if possible with the Paralympic movement. It would be nice to be able to have an impact through the Paralympic movement, IBSA [the International Blind Sport Federation], the FA [the Football Association], whatever…”
Despite the disappointment of missing out on a medal, he retired on a high on Saturday, creating 13 chances and finally scoring three minutes from time – and celebrating with a forward roll – to secure a 2-0 win over Turkey with his 128th international goal.
The result meant Britain ended the tournament in seventh place, a position Clarke said did not do justice to their results: they drew three and lost just one, and ended with a positive goal difference.
He said his young team had “proved they can perform on a world stage”, while six of the eight squad players – he wouldn’t say which other player was planning to retire – hoped to continue with the squad in the lead-up to Rio.
10 September 2012