Page last updated at 23:15 GMT, Friday, 9 July 2010 00:15 UK

Families with disabled children 'struggle to pay bills'

pupil in wheelchair
Families with disabled children are suffering severe economic hardship

Families with disabled children are struggling to pay household bills as the downturn hits their already stretched finances, a survey suggests.

Contact a Family surveyed 1,113 people about how they were coping financially and found 23% went without heating and 14% missed meals to make ends meet.

The group said the slump has left many parents at "breaking point".

It is calling on the government to protect families in the forthcoming comprehensive spending review.

Srabani Sen, chief executive of Contact a Family, said: "Many families with disabled children are in financial dire straits.

"Everyone has been hit hard by the recession but families with disabled children were already having to cope with a harsh combination of extra living costs and the difficulty of holding down a job and caring.

"These financial pressures have been worsened by the economic slump and have left many at breaking point."

Researchers found that 23%, almost one in four, had to turn off their heating to save money and one in seven, 14%, are going without food.

Almost three-quarters, 73%, said they had to forego leisure activities and days out, while 68% are not taking any holidays.

Bryan Clover of the charity Elizabeth Finn Care warned the situation will get worse when the government switches the measure of inflation its uses to calculate benefit rises, from the Retail Price Index to the Consumer Price Index, which excludes housing costs.

Mr Clover said: "The impact of that is anything that they buy from now on will feel more expensive, its going to cost them more they will have less disposable income to use. Every single thing is going to be more expensive and that means hardship is really going to start biting."

Disability in the UK
770,000 children under 16 are disabled
98% of disabled children live at home with parental support
16% of mothers with disabled children work
Raising a disabled child cost three times more than one without disabilities
£15,270 is the average income for families with disabled children
Source: Contact A Family

The Minister for Disabled People, Maria Miller, said the coalition government was "committed to supporting the most vulnerable groups in society."

"We're radically reforming and simplifying the welfare system to make sure that families with disabled children get the help they need.

"Families with disabled children can face some of the toughest challenges when trying to get back into work. Our new work programme will help as it will provide a personalised package of support which can address issues around specialist childcare and respite care, regardless of the benefits they claim.

"In addition, from next year Disability Living Allowance will increase in line with the Consumer Price Index, meaning those families facing financial hardship will be better off than if we had stuck with the previous Government's plan to claw back last year's increase".

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