A new report by Family Fund has found that more than half of older carers on low incomes raising a disabled child found it difficult to afford healthy food for themselves and their family at least once in the last 12 months.

Almost 40% of the older parent and carers who responded to our survey considered themselves to have a disability, chronic health condition or illness. Many respondents – 40% - also had additional caring responsibilities.

Some respondents reported getting into debt in order to buy healthy food, with over a third saying they had used credit cards and 39% saying they had not paid a bill.

"Stark contrast in quality of life"

Cheryl Ward, Chief Executive of Family Fund, said: “It is unacceptable that half the carers over 60 on low incomes who we surveyed cannot afford basic healthy food for themselves and their families.

“Almost 40% reported having a disability, chronic health condition or illness - research shows that it costs disabled adults £300 more each month to maintain their living standards and it’s three times more expensive to raise a child who is disabled compared with one who isn’t.

“There is a stark contrast in the quality of life and opportunities available to disabled children and their families, compared to those without disabilities.

“This is precisely why Family Fund is going beyond grant-making and investing in our information and support services, to help families access what they need to achieve the best possible standards of living and quality of life for themselves and their disabled or seriously ill children.”

Lucas’s story

12-year-old Lucas*, who has autism and ADHD, lives with his grandma, Deb*. He has complex food needs and relies on support with everyday activities such as washing and dressing, which is challenging for Deb who’s in her 60s and suffers from severe rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. 

“Lucas’ conditions mean he has very specific, restrictive behaviours that affect all areas of his life, including eating. His autism restricts him to two or three ‘beige’ foods which have to be the same brand and have minimal taste, texture and colour. 

“Like other children with autism, he has a sensitive gut and strictly needs dairy-free, gluten-free and Casein-free food, which is costly.

"For example, gluten-free bread costs around three times as much- £2.24 for 11 slices, but buying it helps his concentration, his weight, his bowel movements and his energy levels – he’ll do more sports which he loves and says, ‘my body feels good’.

"I’ll borrow money or go without myself to afford it, because his health and happiness come first.

"I’ve always worked which I'd enjoyed, but he needs to be looked after full time. I use the support we receive from Family Fund so he can have a holiday each year. I’d never be able to give him this on my own, and it’s the highlight of his year.”

The findings have been shared with the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on hunger for their inquiry into how hunger and malnourishment are affecting older people.

(*Names changed to protect family’s privacy.)

Download the report here.

Find out how Family Fund supports families on low incomes raising disabled or seriously ill children here.