London 2012: Medal-winner says DLA ‘lets us be the best we can be’


A second medal-winning athlete has spoken of how disability living allowance (DLA) has allowed him and other British Paralympians to “be the best we can be”.

David Smith was speaking after losing the BC1 boccia final to an “awesome” performance by the gold medal-winner Pattaya Tadtong, from Thailand. Tadtong won the final 7-0 in front of a packed crowd at the ExCeL centre yesterday (Saturday).

Smith, who won a boccia team gold in Beijing four years ago, said: “He’s got a lot more power than me and a lot of control and I think that was quite evident on the [score]board. I gave it my best shot but he was too classy for me on the day. No regrets, I’m happy.”

Asked by Disability News Service (DNS) about the importance of the support provided by DLA to medal-winning Paralympians such as himself, he said: “I think it is very important that we have an opportunity to be the best we can be, to enable us to participate in society.

“By giving us the opportunity to be the best we can, we can then contribute. We don’t want everything to be made easy. We just want to be able to have equal footing, so we can get on with our lives and help society.”

Smith is studying aerospace engineering at Swansea University and hopes to work as an engineer, but because he now has a car he can drive himself, obtained through the Motability car scheme, and paid for with his DLA mobility component, his “options are open”.

He said: “[My] options are open now because I have a new car that I can drive myself and it is awesome, with hand controls and all that.”

When Motability rolled out its three millionth car last October, Smith, a powerchair-user, was in Westminster Hall to receive the keys from the Queen.

His new car had been adapted so he could drive himself for the first time, rather than having to be a passenger in the back, as he had been with his previous car.

Research for the WeareSparticus campaign in June, published in Reversing from Recovery: The Hidden Costs of Welfare Reform, found a likely 17 per cent reduction in the number of disabled people eligible for a Motability vehicle as a result of coalition cuts.

But despite stressing the importance of DLA, Smith declined to express concern for the estimated 20 per cent of DLA claimants set to lose the right to support over the next few years as a result of the cuts.

Asked if he was concerned about the 20 per cent cuts to DLA spending, he said: “It depends. There obviously can be improvements in terms of efficiencies, in terms of people that do not necessarily need the money.

“If they do it well and they analyse it properly and they are fair to everybody, then everybody has got to tighten their belts a little bit.

“Personally, I am philosophical. If it happens, it happens, but as long as it is fair to everybody then it should be OK.”

When asked how he would feel if some of Britain’s Paralympians were to lose their DLA over the next few years, he said: “It’s tough. It’s a tough way to go. It’s difficult. People are going to have their own opinions on what they need and what they don’t.”

But he added: “As long as it’s fair to everybody, as long as people aren’t cut out unfairly, and as long as it’s not just done in some office somewhere and [in an]‘off the table’ kind of thing, then I think people will have to accept it.”

When DNS said that 500,000 disabled people could lose their right to DLA over the next few years [by 2015-16], he said: “It is a lot. Then there is a lot of other people that are losing benefits, not just disabled people but the whole system, so I think if we can make it fair and it is equal for everybody, then…”

He had earlier spoken of his hopes that the Paralympics were leading to people becoming “more positive about disability in terms of what we can achieve in life, how we can [have]a positive impact on society, not just [believe we are]a burden on someone else’s ankles”.

He added: “I think that is important and long may that attitude continue.

“Everybody can contribute. Some people need a little bit of a helping hand but if you give them that opportunity, be it a blade or a wheelchair to move around then they can be citizens of society and we can all move Britain forward.”

When Smith began playing boccia, there was little financial support for the sport in Britain, and he even had to fund taking part in his first major championships, which cost him £2,500, including the expense of paying for personal assistants.

But after the boccia team’s success in Beijing four years ago, the sport received “a lot of funding” from UK Sport. They now have two physiotherapists who are “soft-tissue experts”, and a sports psychologist, as well as a statistician, who can provide crucial tactical advice about how to take on different opponents.

He said the London 2012 games themselves had been “amazing”. “The whole Paralympics has been perfect, so much better than Beijing. The [athletes’] village has been wonderful.”

And he said he hoped the London 2012 Paralympics would encourage many more disabled people to take up boccia. “It is a great game for a lot of disabled people who do not get the chance to compete in sport. Boccia is one of those games that gives you the opportunity.”

8 September 2012