Former paralympian from Northampton fears benefits cuts

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A DEAF and blind medal-winning paralympic swimmer is concerned that planned changes to benefits next year will rob her of her independence.

Mum-of-one Janice Tillett, aged 40, from Crofters Close, East Hunsbury, Northampton, represented Great Britain in the pool at the Barcelona Paralympics in 1992, winning two relay silver medals. She also won four European Campionships golds for her country.

But she fears Government proposals to change criteria in an attempt to get more people into work will penalise her and other blind people, leading to them living more closed lives.

Mrs Tillett, who has been completely blind for more than 10 years, and has very limited hearing, said: “They are in effect saying that people will find it easier to cope with their disability over time, so don’t deserve as much in benefits as we have had in the past.

“I agree that some people can learn to deal with it, and some may even improve, but, unless there is a miracle, I can’t really see me getting any better.

“The trouble is that the Government have applied a one-size-fits-all approach to all disabilities when people have different levels of need.

“I think ministers feel blind people are an easy target.”

The Government plans to scrap Disability Living Allowance (DLA), a benefit which helps people pay for the extra costs involved with having a disability.

It will be replaced by Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which is expected to have tougher criteria, cutting its overall spend by £1.45bn per year by 2014/15.

Mrs Tillett, 40, who is being supported by the Royal National Institute for the Blind, is worried she would no longer be able to continue paying for the extra costs associated with her sight and hearing loss.

She said: “The help I get from DLA is not a luxury. Cooking is hard for me so we often eat out or rely on pre-prepared food which is expensive, and I need to get taxis almost eveywhere I go when my husband, who works full-time cannot drive me.

“Even taking my five-year-old daughter, Mary-Elizabeth, swimming costs more as we have to use private gyms who have the staff to assist me.

“I need a number of aids around the house such as talking clocks, slip mats, screen readers and more and the costs mount up.

“The help we currently receive is vital.”