Going the distance for Parkinson's

Those of us who’ve spent the winter months wrapped up warm, hiding away from the great outdoors should spare a thought for the hundreds of intrepid runners training for upcoming long-distance events - braving the cold and inspiring people to donate to Parkinson's UK along the way.

Running is a fantastic way to keep fit and raise vital funds for Parkinson’s. We have dedicated teams of fundraisers signed up to a range of events in coming weeks; including the Bath Half Marathon, Brighton and Paris marathons, and the most famous long-distance event of all - the Virgin London Marathon taking place on 17 April 2011.

Included in our London Marathon team this year is comedian Rob Deering, Parkinson's UK staff member Ros Pearse (who has already raised an impressive £2,118) and the truly inspirational John Watkins, who is 73 years old and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s three years ago.

John says: “I’ve always been an active, outdoors type of person. When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s it took me by surprise. But there’s no point in getting too down about it. I’ve always wanted to do the marathon and thought - why not now?”

Feeling inspired? Why not consider joining one of our teams for a running event taking place later this year, such as the Great North Run or the Royal Parks Half Marathon? Whether you are just starting out or you're an experienced marathon runner there's a race for you. Our running events section provides the full schedule of forthcoming runs and details of how to sign up.

If running isn’t your thing, you can still get involved by volunteering to cheer on our teams at events throughout the year. Contact Kate Welch for more information on 020 7932 1342 or email events@parkinsons.org.uk

Disability benefit reforms: A lack of public understanding?

Controversy continues to roll on around the Government's benefit reform proposals, with the Welfare Reform Bill proposing major changes to benefits issued yesterday.

According to the Government, proposed reforms of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), along with wider changes to benefit assessment processes will "reform and simplify" a system it believes has been riddled with unnecessary complication and frustrating bureaucracy.

However, we remain highly sceptical of the Government's claim that the new system will "support disabled people to live more independent lives".

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Maria Miller, minister for disabled people, said that concerns over the new system was due to "a lack of detailed information" and public understanding of the reforms.

We disagree.

To make swinging cuts to benefits - potentially withdrawing vital funds from the most vulnerable in society - reflects a lack of information and deep misunderstanding from the Government (not among claimants) on the needs of people with conditions such as Parkinson's.

Perhaps most alarming of all, is the proposal to abolish the mobility component of DLA for people in care homes (PDF file), which would withdraw a potential lifeline to many people with the condition.

We have signed up to a letter to The Guardian in response to Maria Miller's comments. And we'll be making every effort to get the Government to make amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill.

How do disability-related benefits make a difference to your independence? How would you be affected in your everyday life if it was taken away? Share your thoughts here.

For more information on the proposed benefit reforms, get in touch with our Social Policy team on 020 7963 9307 or email dobrien@parkinsons.org.uk

Are government cuts destroying 'big society'?

This week, Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, outgoing executive director of the Community Service Volunteers (CSV), heavily criticised the Government's 'big society' vision on BBC News. She argued that far from empowering local communities to volunteer, the 'big society' plans are actually stopping people from making a difference in their local area due to harsh cuts to local council budgets.

With a Liverpool council last week deciding to abandon a 'big society' project because they claimed cuts were undermining voluntary groups supposed to take over some services, the 'big society' debate is sure to continue in the weeks and months ahead.

In the wake of Dame Hoodless's outburst, David Cameron was forced to fend off sharp criticism yesterday in response to his announcement that £200million will be invested into the 'big society' bank. During Primer Minister's Questions, opposition leader Ed Milliband said that society was becoming "smaller and weaker, not bigger and stronger" because the Government was cutting "too far and too fast".

Do you agree with Ed Milliband and Dame Hoodless? If you're a member of a local Parkinson's group or any voluntary group in the local community, are you noticing support and funding opportunities drying up as a result of the cuts? Or would you like to speak up in support of the 'big society' concept?

Share your thoughts here.