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Disability Statistics

Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination (Vince Scully)
a cartoon of a graph with an arrow going up, up, up beyond the frame of the graph.

Finding statistics on the number of disabled people… should be easy – right? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

There are lots of factors that make it hard: differences in definition, in terminology, in the desire to be labeled and more.

The collection of statistical information around disability and experience of impairment is a tricky business.

Want more? Here is a link to a short article called Disability Statistics: Challenges and Sources

So what stats can we find and use confidently?

The following statistics are taken from Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, Prime Ministers Strategy Unit, Cabinet Office, which was published in 2005.


  • 3% of UK children under 16 have one or more impairments
  • population trends indicate a rise in the numbers of children with complex and significant needs
  • 3% of mothers with disabled children work full-time, compared to 22% of mothers of non-disabled children
  • the annual cost of bringing up a disabled child is three times greater than for a non-disabled child
  • an estimated 55% of families with disabled children are living in poverty, or on the margins of poverty
  • disabled children are more likely to suffer abuse

Young people

  • one in four disabled 19 year olds are not in education, training or employment, compared with one in ten non-disabled 19 year olds
  • the prevalence of impairment among 16-19 year olds has almost doubled between 1980s and 1990s. Recent trends suggest this increase is set to continue
  • disabled young people are only half as likely to be in higher education as non-disabled young people
  • overall, one in 50 students doing a full-time first degree receives Disabled Students’ Allowance (2%)


  • 49% of disabled people are in work, compared to 81% of non-disabled people
  • over two thirds (69%) of disabled people develop their impairment during working age - men under 45 who become disabled, are three times more likely to lose their jobs than non-disabled men
  • 25% of people with severe impairments work
  • World Health Organisation (WHO) predict that by 2020, depression will be the most common form of disability
  • 90% of people moving on to Incapacity Benefit expect to get work; after 12 months 40% would still be unemployed - with just a 20% chance of finding work within the next five years
Want to know more about the Improving the life chances of disabled people report?

Finding statistics for the UK

If you need hard facts and figures for funding applications or comparison data, you’d be best off starting with The Office for National Statistics, and their disability data

To go straight to The Office for National Statistics' disability section

Finding international statistics

Check out the United Nations Statistics Division’s section on human functioning and disability

To go straight to United Nations Statistics Division’s section on Human functioning and disability

Statistics on disability and employment

The Shaw Trust quotes the following statistics on employment and disability

  • There are currently 1.3 million disabled people in the UK who are available for and want to work
  • Only half of disabled people of working age are in work (50%), compared with 80% of non disabled people
  • Employment rates vary greatly according to the type of impairment a person has; only 20% of people with mental health problems are in employment
  • 23% of disabled people have no qualifications compared to 9% of non disabled people
  • Nearly one in five people of working age (7 million, or 18.6%) in Great Britain have a disability
  • The average gross hourly pay for disabled employees is £11.08 compared to £12.30 for non disabled employees. Source: Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey, Jan - March 2009
To go straight to The Shaw Trust's statistics page
You can get more disability specific information directly from the National Statistics Labour Force Survey.