Northern Ireland families with disabled children have become the latest victims of the credit crunch, with many forced to live without basic food and heating.
The worrying news comes after an investigation undertaken by local charity, Contact a Family, found that the soaring cost of life’s essentials has all but pushed some vulnerable households over the edge.
Chief among the findings of the study, entitled Counting the Costs, was that one in six disabled children lives in a household struggling to afford food and heating.
The survey also revealed that almost half of families have borrowed money from friends and family, with one in five using the cash to pay their heating bill. And, perhaps even more unsettling, the statistics showed that one in 14 children with a disability or medical condition is living under threat of losing their home.
Contact a Family surveyed almost 800 parent carers in the UK about their financial situation in the current economic crisis in order to determine the impact it is having on survival.
Frances Murphy, director of Contact a Family Northern Ireland, said the study has highlighted some unpleasant truths about the the effects of the current economic downturn.
“Our survey findings paint a shocking picture of what these often vulnerable families are experiencing,” he said.
Paula McManus from Dunmurry, mum to Gary who has cerebral palsy and Rachel who has a heart condition, said the spiralling cost of commodities is proving difficult to accommodate.
“My children are often sick in the night because of their conditions, so we have the washing machine on three or four times a day,” she said.
“Gary can’t walk or move around much so doesn’t generate his own heat which means we have the heating on up to 12 hours a day. I’ve noticed a big jump in gas and electricity bills which is difficult to afford.”
As the housing market slumps 18% of families with a disabled child said they are struggling with mortgage and rent payments and have been in arrears in the last 12 months.
To make ends meet a quarter of families have approached charities for financial help and one in four has taken out a loan.
Families concerned about their finances should telephone the Contact a Family national freephone helpline 0808 808 3555.