What are the barriers to disabled people accessing local leisure facilities?

Written by: Heather Armstrong, Campaigns Co-ordinator, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society Scotland

Published: 03/12/2019

Illustration of 10 hands raised in the air, in various different bright colours/

Heather introduces the MS Society's new campaign to equalise access to leisure facilities.

Social prescribing of exercise has become more and more popular over the last decade. It’s prescribed to help people with a variety of health conditions, including multiple sclerosis (MS) and mental health conditions, to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

How exercise can help people living with MS?

Research has shown that regular exercise can help with the symptoms of MS. That’s why in August 2017 we launched our Active Together project at MS Society Scotland, funded by an Adult Community Care Grant from the Scottish Government. We trialled three different approaches to enabling people living with MS to be more physically active, to find out which was the most effective.

173 people took part in the project. After it finished an independent evaluation of participants was undertaken. 73% of people who responded indicated that they were determined to do more physical activity. They also expressed improvements in self-belief, such as feeling more positive about their future. This was because they could retain capabilities they previously believed they might not be able to because of their condition.

A further 66% of participants indicated that the physical activity provided was very important or extremely important to their wellbeing. Our research also suggested participants were more likely to sustain activity which catered to their specific needs as someone living with MS. Academic research also supports the use of exercise in managing symptoms in MS and other long–term conditions.

The cost of exercise can be a barrier

But we have a problem. What do people living with health conditions do when their prescriptions are over and they have to pay full memberships to the gym or club they have been benefitting from?

Each local authority area in Scotland has leisure facilities either ran by the local authority or by a leisure trust. Each has their own membership scheme, some of which benefit those with disabilities and health conditions. Others have room for improvement.

While the majority of the leisure trusts provide concessionary memberships to those with disabilities, there is a huge gap in information on their websites about how people can access these concessions. We had to undertake a significant amount of research to find out what concessions were available, where, and who can access them.

We found that 3 leisure trusts did not offer any sort of concessionary memberships to disabled people. And of all the trusts that do offer concessionary memberships; there is one that does not accept Personal Independence Payment (PIP) to obtain concessionary membership.

People with MS are pushing for change

We have been working over the last year to convince Live Active Leisure, the leisure trust in Perth & Kinross, to accept PIP as a valid benefit for concessionary membership. We were approached by a member of the MS community who had been prescribed a 12 week exercise programme by their GP. At the end of the programme, after feeling the benefit of exercise, they wanted to become a member to continue using the gym at Live Active Leisure but were unable to afford membership at full cost. When they asked about getting a concessionary membership as they were in receipt of PIP they were told Live Active Leisure did not accept PIP for concession as it is not ‘means-tested’.

We have had ongoing conversations with Live Active Leisure about the issue, which included us suggesting an alternative of offering the Over 65 price. But at present concessionary memberships are still not available to those on PIP. We know they are currently doing a review of their services, and we have started a petition and are writing to local councillors to try and influence the review. We hope they will make a change to the policy on concessionary memberships.

Support our campaign for equal access

There is a lot more work to be done across the country to equalise access to leisure facilities for disabled people but we hope that Perth & Kinross is a good place to start.

Please get in touch to support the campaign or sign our online petition (this link will take you away from our website).

Contact Heather via scotlandcampaigns@mssociety.org.uk or by calling 0131 335 4057.

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Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society Scotland

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