Give a disabled child a better life

By Elizabeth Gardiner, Parliamentary and Policy officer at Working Families

Elizabeth Gardiner

Elizabeth Gardiner

Any parent will tell you balancing work and care is a challenge. But this month, Working Families is focusing especially on parents with disabled children – and a new appeal for support.

For the past 17 years my colleagues and I have run a “Waving Not Drowning” network for parents of disabled children who work or wish to work. So we know the particular barriers to paid work that these parents face.

Affording childcare is high on the political agenda, but finding and paying for specialist childcare to suit a disabled child’s needs is difficult. Parents need jobs that fit with their caring responsibilities, but also very understanding employers. Too often hospital and other appointments are inflexible and can’t be easily rearranged. Flexible hours can be vital.

I knew caring for a disabled child was hard. But I was shocked by the results of our recent survey of 1,000 parents of disabled children. It exposed a worrying pattern of unemployment and under-employment.

Greater risk

Almost three in 10 parents surveyed were not in paid work - most because they had given up to care for their disabled child - and over half of those not in work had given up at least six years ago. Over 90 per cent of these parents say they would like to do paid work - but it is very hard to get back in to work after so long out.

For those in work, many were working well below their abilities. Almost two thirds of these parents had refrained from seeking promotion, declined promotion or accepted demotion to balance caring with paid work. This is a shocking waste of talent and the knock-on effects on family life are profound.

Unemployment and under-employment mean families with disabled children are at greater risk of experiencing poverty, poor housing, social isolation and family break up. Children’s life chances are affected. So my appeal is to “give a disabled child a better life” by supporting Working Families’ work to keep parents of disabled children in work and out of poverty.

Our free legal helpline offers expert advice on employment rights and helps parents negotiate the flexible hours they need. We provide outreach support to parents’ groups. We produce tailored resources on work and family finance for families with disabled children.

And we’re launching a new campaign - “Working On” - to highlight to government, employers and support services what needs to change.

  • I want to see the introduction of “adjustment leave” - short-term flexibility to help parents remain in work through a crisis period, such as during a diagnosis of disability.

  • I want the extra costs of childcare for disabled children recognised in the benefits system. I want more employers to offer - and advertise - jobs flexibly to open up the market for parents who can’t work full time.

  • I want schools, health and other service providers to plan services to suit working parents.

  • And I want to see attitudes change - parents of disabled children CAN work, want to work, and their children’s life chances may depend on it.

To help, visit Working Families here

Thank you for reading.