Families with disabled children are spiralling into debt and missing out on essentials such as food and heating, a survey has found.

Disability charity Contact a Family's 'Counting the Costs 2012' survey found that families - whether in employment or not - are in increasing poverty. For example, among working families, 1in 6 (17%) cannot afford to heat their homes and 1 in 7 (14%) are missing meals But for those who can't work because they are caring for a disabled child, the picture is even worse; 24% of respondents said they are going without food and a third (32%) are going without heating.

Contact a Family has calculated that additional costs in transport, heating, special food and clothing mean that it costs three times more to raise a disabled child than a non-disabled child. 'Counting the Costs 2012' also found that this financial hardship is causing families to get into debt. Almost a third (29%) said they have taken out loans - from loan sharks, quick cash schemes, banks or family and friends - to afford everyday essentials such as groceries and heating. Meanwhile, 41% have fallen behind with payments for gas and electric bills, council tax, rent and mortgage. Moira Hookings, mum to Leon who has autism, outlined how difficult her financial situation has become: "I've axed my weekly shop and regularly go without meals to make sure Leon has enough. He gets upset when I don't eat but I just tell him not to worry as I'm not hungry. I've borrowed money from family to pay for food, gas and electric and I took out a credit card for Leon's school uniform and footwear, which I am now paying off at £20 a month."

In light of these findings, Contact a Family is calling on the Government to exempt families with disabled children from cuts to financial support and to target additional support to families through universal credit when they publish the detail of the new single monthly payment.

Srabani Sen, chief executive of Contact a Family, said: "There is an opportunity for the Government to make the financial situation of families with disabled children better. We strongly urge them to use the opportunity to improve the financial misery these families are dealing with every day. Families with disabled children contribute a huge amount to the economy by working and caring, saving the NHS and social services billions each year. Our research shows that it's vital more is done to help those caring for a disabled child."

'Counting the Costs 2012' can be accessed here: