Disability campaigners are outraged by Southsea's Kings Theatre decision to charge carers for tickets

CHARGES brought in for carers attending shows at the Kings Theatre ‘will put people off leaving the house’ according to a disability rights campaigner.

Saturday, 4th January 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Saturday, 4th January 2020, 6:05 am
13-year-old Emily White from Fareham, centre, with her National Diversity Award for Positive Role Model for Age from a ceremony in Liverpool last year, pictured with her parents, Aimee and Dan Picture: Dan White

The decision to charge carers £10 for a ticket – where previously they were free – has been criticised by parents and disability campaigners.

Activist Dan White, from Fareham, called the introduction of the charge ‘bad practice’.

‘It absolutely smacks of ableism,’ said Dan, whose 13-year-old daughter Emily has spina bifida.

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The Kings Theatre, Albert Road Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘Disabled children and their parents spend so much time indoors so the rare occasion they can get out is such a help to their mental health. It’s going to put people off leaving the house.

‘When your carers’ allowance is £66 a week, we can’t afford these extra costs.’

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A mother from the Portsmouth area, who wishes to stay anonymous, regularly visits the theatre in Albert Road with her children, who have disabilities.

She was enquiring to see if her son’s disability documentation was still in date to obtain a carers ticket when she was informed there is now a £10 charge for a carer ticket.

Previously free, carer tickets are now chargeable after the site reviewed its carer policy in October 2019 and decided the fee would bring it in line with other similar-sized venues across the UK.

Locally, the Mayflower in Southampton offers carer tickets at half the price of a standard ticket, whereas the New Theatre Royal provides free entry for carers.

On finding out about the fee, the dismayed parent told The News: ‘It’s not all about a free ticket, it’s the fact that a disabled person has no choice in the matter so to make money on this is awful.

‘It’s a healthy person’s choice to take someone and therefore they pay for that seat. When someone doesn’t have that choice they shouldn’t be charged for the right to remain safe.

‘I think the new policy has gone back in time and is not beneficial to the disabled members of our society at all.’

The theatre said the fee will help fund future development for customers with access needs, with recent developments including an update to the website setting out clearly all access and companion ticket details and the introduction of the Mobile Connect Assistive Listening system to ensure that everyone can clearly hear the show.

Mr White added: ‘This smacks to me of a money-making business. If they’re going to [improve facilities] then fair enough but it’s charging people who are already on the peripheries of society.

‘Why not just add £1 onto a normal ticket? All I can say is it will lose them money in the long term.’

WHAT NATIONAL DISABILITY CAMPAIGNERS SAY

Jess Leigh, campaigns manager at disability equality charity Scope, said: ‘Carers are a lifeline, not a luxury for many disabled people.

‘Without the vital support a personal assistant provides for things like using the toilet, getting comfortable and eating and drinking, activities such as going to the theatre would be impossible.

‘Life already costs more for disabled people – on average £583 a month. Initiatives such as free carer tickets help to level the playing field and ensure everyone can access theatre.

‘We hope the theatre will rethink this policy change, and that venues will improve their performance to become more inclusive for disabled people.’

It’s not just individual disabled people who may be deterred, according to Scope ambassador Samantha Renke.

She referenced the ‘purple pound’, which is the spending power of disabled households, reckoned to be worth around £249bn to the economy.

Samantha, who has osteogenesis imperfecta, said: ‘You should see a carer as an asset rather than deterring them and making them pay a fee, which is ludicrous really.

‘If you make it difficult for us, we won’t come back and our family and friends won’t come back, it’s as simple as that.

‘We need to educate people and also say if you’re discouraging carers you need to have sufficient staff training.’