<strong>50 years on from thalidomide: Family Fund marks five decades supporting disabled or seriously ill children   </strong>

<strong>50 years on from thalidomide: Family Fund marks five decades supporting disabled or seriously ill children   </strong>

By Ellise, 21, Disabilities Correspondent, Jill Dando News

Family Fund, the UK’s largest grant-making charity for families raising disabled or seriously ill children on the lowest incomes has just celebrated it 50th birthday.

The charity began life in 1973 after a public campaign on behalf of children affected by thalidomide.

Formed as part of a £3 million fund provided by government to support families affected by the drug, it awarded its first grant of £26 for a father to travel from Wales to visit his sick daughter in hospital, on 2 April 1973.

Photo - Familyfund.org.uk

Now the charity finds itself in greater demand than ever before.

As costs of living remain sky-high, its grants for essential items such as beds, bedding, clothing, washing machines, cookers and play and sensory equipment or for much-needed family breaks, are a lifeline to families.

Public understanding of life for families raising disabled or seriously ill children has grown over the decades and the role of Family Fund has developed to include wider support beyond grant making services.

Many people are struggling to cover the essentials for their children and have had to cut down on activities and equipment to support their children’s development and wellbeing.

Last year alone, Family Fund delivered 170,919 grants and services, worth over £37 million, and received a 135% increase in grant applications since before the pandemic.

During the last 50 years the charity has provided 1.5 million grants and services for essential items to benefit disabled children.  Behind each grant is a unique family story.

Photo - familyfund.org.uk

Following the dramatic impact of the pandemic on the financial, physical and emotional health of families, recent research by the charity reveals that families continue to face a triple whammy of sky-high costs on top of severely reduced incomes.  This is due to intense caring responsibilities and three-times-higher costs to look after a disabled child.

Cheryl Ward, Family Fund’s Chief Executive, said:

“For 50 years we’ve played a vital role in supporting families with disabled or seriously ill children, helping to make life easier with grants and services, whilst making their voices heard and  sharing their experiences to influence lasting change on issues that matter to them.

“We are proud of the way we have supported families over this time, and continue, as we have for 50 years, to be led by what parents and carers themselves tell us what they need to make a difference to family life. Families continue to tell us our grants make a huge and practical difference to their everyday lives and for many they remain a lifeline.

“However, we are needed now more than ever, and continue to see the highest numbers of families coming to us for help in our history, with a 135% increase in grant applications since before the pandemic. Families are overwhelmed by living costs and facing staggering financial pressures which are now affecting their children’s quality of life.

“We are pleased the Government is supporting households by limiting the average energy bill at £2,500 a year as well as supporting those on Universal Credit by paying for childcare upfront.

“We are committed to continue to work with all of our funders across the UK Government, Charitable Trusts and our donors, to continue to grow our support for families raising disabled or seriously ill children and we remain to all who aid us to help as many families as possible.”

Alongside giving grants, Family Fund also offers families raising disabled or seriously ill children, on a low income, wider support, including information and resources on where to go for help with money and benefits; budget planning; their children's education; mental health and wellbeing; digital training and creative workshops.

Get involved to make a difference to vulnerable children’s lives

The charity asks for people to join it’s Big 50 Challenge - from walking or cycling 50 miles, swimming 50 lengths, holding a 50-question quiz night or creating a Big 50 Challenge of their own.

Snapshot of family life today

In the UK, 9% of children have a disability and almost one third of these children (32%) live in poverty (Joseph Rowntree UK poverty 2023).

Parenting in the current climate:

The charity’s latest research findings show:

  • Nine out of ten families are struggling or falling behind with bills, particularly energy bills, and over half say their debts have increased in the last year, with one third using credit to pay essential household bills;
  • Eight out of ten families have no savings, and seven out of ten families report not being able to save even £10 a month. This leaves families in a precarious financial position, with four out of five saying they would be unable to pay an unexpected expense of £200;
  • Over four out of five families (82%) say they can’t replace worn out furniture; nearly four out of five (78%) say they cannot afford to repair, or replace, major electrical goods such as cookers, fridges or washing machines;
  • One third of families have visited foodbanks in the last 12 months and four out of ten experience low food security (limited access to adequate, safe and nutritious food);
  • Up to 74 per cent of families caring for a disabled or seriously ill child are struggling to pay energy bills and 23% of families are unable to pay at least some of their essential household bills.

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