Skip to main content Accessibility help

Child Disability and the Dynamics of Family Poverty, Hardship and Financial Strain: Evidence from the UK



Disabled children are significantly more likely to grow up in poverty than their non-disabled peers. We used longitudinal data from Waves 3–7 (2001–2005) of the UK Families and Children Study to explore the relationship between the presence of a disabled child in the family and poverty transitions. When compared to other families, families supporting a disabled child are more likely to be exposed to persistent or recurrent poverty, less likely to escape from an episode of poverty and more likely to descend into poverty. However, statistically controlling for the effects of salient family characteristics either attenuates, eliminates or reverses these associations. That is, when compared to other families with similar levels of personal and social resources, families supporting a disabled child are no more likely to escape from or descend into poverty than other families. Results are discussed in relation to the need for social policy to invest in strengthening the broader capabilities of families of disabled children.


Corresponding author


Hide All
Adelman, L. and Cebulla, A. (2003), ‘The dynamics of poverty and deprivation in the UK’, in Apospori, E. and Millar, J. (eds.), The Dynamics of Social Exclusion in Europe, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Baldwin, S. (1985), The Costs of Caring: Families with Disabled Children, London: Keegan Paul.
Beresford, B. and Rhodes, D. (2008), Housing and Disabled Children, York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Blackburn, C., Read, J. and Spencer, N. (in press), ‘Prevalence of childhood disability and the characteristics and circumstances of disabled children in the UK: secondary analysis of the Family Resources Survey’, BMC Pediatrics.
Bolte, G., Tamburlini, G. and Kohlhuber, M. (2010), ‘Environmental inequalities among children in Europe: evaluation of scientific evidence and policy implications’, European Journal of Public Health, 20: 1420.
Bradbury, B., Jenkins, S. P. and Micklewright, J. (2001), The Dynamics of Child Poverty in Industrialised Countries, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bradshaw, J. (2001), Poverty: The Outcomes for Children, London: Family Policy Studies Centre.
Braubach, M. and Fairburn, J. (2010), ‘Social inequities in environmental risks associated with housing and residential location: a review of evidence’, European Journal of Public Health, 20: 3642.
Brooks-Gunn, J. and Duncan, G. (1997), ‘The effects of poverty on children and youth’, The Future of Children, 7: 5571.
Cabinet Office (2005), Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People: Final Report, London: Cabinet Office.
Cabinet Office (2008), ‘Getting on, getting ahead: analysing the trends and drivers of social mobility’, a discussion paper, Cabinet Office, London.
Cabinet Office (2009), ‘New opportunities: fair chances for the future’, Cabinet Office, London.
Carers UK (2007a), Real Change, Not Short Change: Time to Deliver for Carers, London: Carers UK.
Carers UK (2007b), Out of Pocket: A Survey of Carers’ Lost Earnings, London: Carers UK.
Clarke, H. and McKay, S. (2008), Exploring Disability, Family Formation and Break-Up: Reviewing the Evidence, Sheffield: Department of Work and Pensions.
Council for Disabled Children (2006), Parliamentary Hearings on Services for Disabled Children, Full report, London: National Children's Bureau.
Department for Education and Skills (2003), Every Child Matters, London: The Stationery Office.
Department of Health (2008), Carers at the Heart of 21st Century Families and Communities: A Caring System on your Side, a Life of Your Own, London: Department of Health.
Disability Rights Commission (2006), Ending Child Poverty – the Disability Dimension, London: DRC.
Disability Rights Commission (2007), Bringing an End to Child Poverty, London: DRC.
Dobson, B., Middleton, S. and Beardsworth, A. (2001), The Impact of Childhood Disability on Family Life, York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Emerson, E. and Hatton, C. (2007), ‘The socio-economic circumstances of children at risk of disability in Britain’, Disability and Society, 22: 6, 563–80.
Emerson, E., Madden, R., Robertson, J., Graham, H., Hatton, C. and Llewellyn, G. (2009), Intellectual and Physical Disability, Social Mobility, Social Inclusion and Health: Background Paper for the Marmot Review, Lancaster: Centre for Disability Research, Lancaster University.
Emerson, E. and Hatton, C. (2010), ‘Socio-economic position, poverty and family research’, in Glidden, L. M. and Seltzer, M. M. (eds.), On Families: International Review of Research on Mental Retardation, New York: Academic Press.
Emerson, E., McCulloch, A., Graham, H., Blacher, J., Llewellyn, G. and Hatton, C. (2010), ‘The mental health of parents of young children with and without developmental delays’, American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 115: 3042.
Emerson, E. (in press), ‘Household deprivation, neighbourhood deprivation, ethnicity and the prevalence of intellectual and developmental disabilities’, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Emerson, E., Shahtahmasebi, S., Berridge, D. and Lancaster, G. (in press), ‘Factors associated with poverty transitions among families supporting a child with intellectual disability’, Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability.
Every Disabled Child Matters (2008), ‘Between a rock and a hard place’, National Children's Bureau, London.
Fabian Commission on Life Chances and Child Poverty (2006), Narrowing the Gap: The Final Report of the Fabian Commission on Life Chances and Child Poverty, London: Fabian Society.
Fujiura, G. T. and Rutkowski-Kmitta, V. (2001), ‘Counting disability’, in Albrecht, G. L., Seelman, K. D. and Bury, M. (eds.), Handbook of Disabilities Studies, Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Gannon, B. and Nolan, B. (2007), ‘The impact of disability transitions on social inclusion’, Social Science and Medicine, 64: 1425–37.
Gordon, D., Parker, R., Loughran, F. and Heslop, P. (2000), Disabled Children in Britain: A Re-analysis of the OPCS Disability Surveys, London: The Stationery Office.
Gordon, D., Levitas, R. and Pantazis, C. (2005), Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain: The Millennium Survey, Bristol: Policy Press.
Graham, H. (2007), Unequal Lives: Health and Socioeconomic Inequalities, Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Hatton, C., Emerson, E., Graham, H., Blacher, J. and Llewellyn, G. (2010), ‘Changes in family composition and marital status in families with a young child with cognitive delay’, Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 23: 1426.
Headey, B. (2006), ‘A framework for assessing poverty, disadvantage and low capabilities in Australia’, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, University of Melbourne, Melbourne.
Her Majesty's Treasury (2007), Aiming High for Disabled Children: Better Support for Families, London: Her Majesty's Treasury and Department for Education and Skills.
Hoxhallari, L., Conolly, A. and Lyon, N. (2007), Families with Children in Britain: Findings from the 2005 Families and Children Study (FACS), Department for Work and Pensions Research Report No. 424, Leeds: Corporate Document Services.
IASSID Special Interest Research Group on Parents and Parenting with Intellectual Disabilities (2008), ‘Parents labelled with intellectual disability: position of the IASSID SIRG on parents and parenting with intellectual disabilities’, Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 21: 296307.
Inclusion Europe (2006), ‘Poverty and intellectual disability in Europe’.
Inclusion International (2006), Hear Our Voices: A Global Report – People with an Intellectual Disability and their Families Speak Out on Poverty and Exclusion, London: The Rix Centre, University of East London.
Jenkins, S. P., Rigg, J. A. and Devicienti, F. (2001), The Dynamics of Poverty in Britain, Department for Work and Pensions Research Report No 157, London: Department for Work and Pensions.
Jenkins, S. P. and Rigg, J. A. (2004), ‘Disability and disadvantage: selection, onset and duration effects’, Journal of Social Policy, 33: 3, 479501.
Laursen, B. and Nielsen, J. W. (2008), ‘Influence of sociodemographic factors on the risk of unintentional childhood home injuries’, European Journal of Public Health, 18: 366370.
Lukemeyer, A., Meyers, M. K. and Smeeding, T. (2000), ‘Expensive children in poor families: out-of-pocket expenditures for the care of disabled and chronically ill children in welfare families’, Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62: 399415.
Lynch, J. W., Kaplan, G. A. and Shema, S. J. (1997), ‘Cumulative impact of sustained economic hardship on physical, cognitive, psychological, and social functioning’, The New England Journal of Medicine, 337: 26, 1889–95.
Lyon, N., Mangla, J., Tait, C. and Scholes, S. (2007), Families and Children Study (FACS) 2005, Wave 7, London: National Centre for Social Research.
Mack, J. and Lansley, S. (1985), Poor Britain, London: Allen & Unwin.
Magadi, M. and Middleton, S. (2005), ‘Britain's poorest children revisited: evidence from the BHPS (1994–2002)’, CRSP Research Report 3, Loughborough Centre for Research in Social Policy, Loughborough University.
McLeod, J. D. and Shanahan, M.J. (1996), ‘Trajectories of poverty and children's mental health’, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 37: 207220.
McQuaid, R., Fuertes, V. and Richard, A. (2010), How can Parents Escape from Recurrent Poverty? York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
National Equality Panel (2010), An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK, London: Government Equalities Office.
Newacheck, P. W. and Kim, S. E. (2005), ‘A national profile of health care utilization and expenditures for children with special health care needs’, Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 159: 1018.
Newschaffer, C. J., Croen, L. A., Daniels, J., Giarelli, E., Grether, J. K., Levy, S. E., Mandell, D. S., Miller, L. A., Pinto-Martin, J. P., Reaven, J., Reynolds, A. M., Rice, C. E., Schendel, D. and Windham, G. C. (2007), ‘The epidemiology of autism spectrum disorders’, Annual Review of Public Health, 28: 235–58.
Noble, M., McLennan, D., Wilkinson, K., Whitworth, A., Barnes, H. and Dibben, C. (2008), The English Indices of Deprivation 2007, London: Communities and Local Government.
Nolan, B. and Whelan, C. (1996), Resources, Deprivation and Poverty, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Nunn, A., Johnson, S., Monro, S., Bickerstaffe, T. and Kelsey, S. (2007), Factors Influencing Social Mobility, London: DWP.
Pantazis, C., Gordon, D. and Levitas, R. (2006), Poverty and Social Exclusion in Britain: The Millennium Survey, Bristol: Policy Press.
Parish, S. L., Seltzer, M. M., Greenburg, J. S. and Floyd, F. (2004), ‘Economic implications of caregiving at midlife: comparing parents with and without children who have developmental disabilities’, Mental Retardation, 42: 6, 413–26.
Parish, S. L., Rose, R. A., Andrews, M. E., Grinstein-Weiss, M. and Richman, E. L. (2008), ‘Material hardship in US families raising children with disabilities’, Exceptional Children, 75: 1, 7192.
Petterson, S. M. and Albers, A. B. (2004), ‘Effects of poverty and maternal depression on early child development’, Child Development, 72: 6, 1794–813.
Porterfield, S. L. (2002), ‘Work choices of mothers in families with children with disabilities’, Journal of Marriage and Family, 64: 972–81.
Power, C., Atherton, K., Strachan, D. P., Shepherd, P., Fuller, E., Davis, A., Gibb, I., Kumari, M., Lowe, G., Macfarlane, G. J., Rahi, J., Rodgers, B. and Stansfeld, S. (2007), ‘Life-course influences on health in British adults: effects of socio-economic position in childhood and adulthood’, International Journal of Epidemiology, 36: 532–39.
Saunders, P., Naidoo, Y. and Griffiths, M. (2007), Towards New Indicators of Disadvantage: Deprivation and Social Exclusion in Australia, Sydney: SPRC, University of New South Wales.
Seltzer, M. M., Greenberg, J. S., Floyd, F. J., Pettee, Y. and Hong, J. (2001), ‘Life course impacts of parenting a child with a disability’, American Journal on Mental Retardation, 106: 265–86.
Shakespeare, T. (2006), Disability Rights and Wrongs, London: Routledge.
Shaw, M., Galobardes, B., Lawlor, D. A., Lynch, J., Wheeler, B. and Davey Smith, G. (2007), The Handbook of Inequality and Socioeconomic Position: Concepts and Measures, Bristol: Policy Press.
Shonkoff, J. P., Boyce, W. T. and McEwen, B. S. (2009), ‘Neuroscience, molecular biology, and the childhood roots of health disparities: building a new framework for health promotion and disease prevention’, JAMA, 301: 2252–59.
Smith, N. and Middleton, S. (2007), A Review of Poverty Dynamics Research in the UK, York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
The Marmot Review (2010), Fair Society, Healthy Lives: Strategic Review of Health Inequalities in England Post-2010, London: The Marmot Review.
Thomas, C. (2007), Sociologies of Disability and Illness: Contested Ideas in Disability Studies and Medical Sociology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Tibble, M. (2005), Review of Existing Research on the Extra Costs of Disability, London: Department of Work and Pensions.
Tossebro, J. and Kittelsaa, A. (2004), ‘Studying the living conditions of disabled people: Approaches and problems’, in Tossebro, J. and Kittelsaa, A. (eds.), Exploring the Living Conditions of Disabled People, Lund, Sweden: Studentlitteratur.
World Health Organization (2001), International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health, Geneva: World Health Organization.
World Health Organization (2007), International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health – Children and Youth Version, ICF-CY, Geneva: World Health Organization.

Child Disability and the Dynamics of Family Poverty, Hardship and Financial Strain: Evidence from the UK



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed