Sharp rise in families with disabled children going without heating and food leads to ill health

The charity Contact a Family is calling on the government and energy companies to urgently address the alarming trend revealed in their fourth Counting the Costs report.

Contact A Family logoOf those surveyed:

  • 33% of families with disabled children are going without heating (UP from 21% in 2012)
  • The number going without food has nearly doubled (UP from 16% in 2012 to 31% now)

And of those going without and in debt:

  • 22% say their child’s health has worsened as a result
  • 64% have suffered ill health as a result.


There has been a sharp rise in the number of families with disabled children going without heating and food over the last 2 years, reveals charity Contact a Family. This is leading to too many disabled children and their families suffering ill health.

In one of the biggest surveys of its kind with over 3,500 respondents, Counting the Costs 2014, also found that:

  • 36% have taken out a loan (UP from 29% in 2012)
  • A third are worse off as a result of benefit changes – nearly half by £1560 a year
  • 60% see their financial situation worsening in the next year (UP from 43% in 2010)

Amanda Batten, Chief Executive of Contact a Family, said: “Increased living costs and cuts to financial support have left some families with disabled children reeling. Despite the economy showing signs of recovery, families with disabled children are not optimistic about the coming years. Instead they feel they are facing an increasingly precarious financial future.

“These money worries are putting huge emotional and mental strain on the families we work with.  The impact is affecting their health, relationships and in some cases is making their child’s condition worse. It doesn’t have to be like this. We all have a role to play in doing something about it. That’s why we are calling on the government and energy companies to help and for more families with disabled children to get in touch with us for advice.”

It costs more to raise a disabled child. More than a quarter of families surveyed have extra costs relating to their child’s disability of £300 or more every month, with the biggest cost being heating and utility bills. When asked what would help with the extra costs they face, families called for discounts from energy companies (21%) and more support through the benefits system (24%). Some families called for advice about benefits, with almost two thirds (61%) saying they were confused about the recent changes.

That’s why Contact a Family is calling for:

  • The government to ensure the welfare system reflects the extra costs and barriers to work that families with disabled children face
  • Energy companies to offer discounts to households with a disabled child3
  • More families with disabled children to get in touch with Contact a Family for benefits advice

The health of some disabled children is at risk because of their families’ stretched finances. As well as going without basics, almost a third of families (27%) told the charity they are going without specialist equipment, adaptations or therapies for their child. And 9% are missing medical appointments, due to the cost of fuel or transport to get there. Some parents say that the stress they are under is having a knock on effect on their child’s health.

Amanda Batten added: “It is a national scandal that the health of some disabled children and their families is in jeopardy. We must act quickly to address this. There is an energy bill crisis for all families, with prices rocketing over the last few years. But families with disabled children face bigger than average bills because many conditions worsen in the cold weather or require electrical equipment for care and families are typically at home more often.”

Chantal Chaervey from Suffolk, mum to Harry who has complex needs, said: “Harry has severe brain damage, no immunity and very complex epilepsy which means he can have between 2 and 12 seizures a day. I used to work full time and bring in a very good wage but I lost my home and business when Harry first got ill and spent the first 18 months of his life in hospital.

“Going without essentials like heating has a direct impact on Harry. His immune system is severely suppressed so he needs extra heating. He is incontinent which means he can get very cold at night if he gets wet. Through autumn and winter keeping him warm with very little money becomes increasingly difficult but is vitally important. He can catch flu very easily and this has led to pneumonia in the past – last year he had 13 lung infections. As well as needing extra heating his bedding has to be changed much more than usual. It all adds up.

“Worrying about paying the bills or paying off loans I have taken out to pay for essentials means I feel stressed and anxious and spend a lot of time feeling like a zombie. I am constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

About Contact a Family

Contact a Family supports families with disabled children across the UK. Whatever the condition, whenever they need us, wherever they are. We provide information, advice and support. We bring families together so they can support each other. We campaign to improve their circumstances, and for their right to be included and equal in society. Find out more at

Accessibility Tools

Discover more from Enable Magazine

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading