Office for National Statistics
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Study shows the changing nature of disability and people’s life opportunities

A study into disability in Great Britain has shown that even after a short period of one year, changes can be seen in whether or not people now have an impairment, compared with a year ago. Additionally, the study has shown that the barriers that people face in participating in society have changed just after a year.

The LOS is the first major survey in Great Britain to explore disability in terms of people’s experience of social participation. Adults in the survey are defined as having an impairment if they experience moderate, severe or complete difficulty within at least one area of mental or physical functioning, and if certain activities, such as walking or reading a newspaper, are limited as a result.

The Wave Two Part One report of the Life Opportunities Survey (LOS), published yesterday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), shows that of the people with impairments a year ago, 34 per cent no longer reported an impairment a year later. In other words, just over a third of people who reported an impairment at the start of the survey have “offset” from their impairment twelve months on. On the other hand, around eight per cent of adults, or one in twelve, who did not have an impairment a year ago, reported an impairment a year later.

The study, which has been running since June 2009, is sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions. It compares how disabled and non-disabled people participate in society in a number of areas including work; education; social participation; transport and use of public services. The survey, which interviews a random sample of households at Wave One and followed up these households  a year later, aims to identify the reasons why people do not take part in these areas as much as they would like to, and explores topics such as living standards, housing, discrimination and crime.

The survey will return to interview the same people over coming years. It will help government understand how people’s lives change and help assess whether life opportunities are improving.

The key findings from Wave Two Part One (2010/12) of the report, which follows Wave One in 2009/11, show:

In general, people with impairments at both waves were more likely to report having more impairments, than those who had impairments at only one of the waves. Also, those aged 65 or over were more likely to report three or more impairments than those of working age (16-64).

The four most commonly-reported impairments by people having impairments at both waves were long-term pain (66 per cent), chronic condition (52 per cent), mobility impairment (39 per cent) and dexterity impairment (24 per cent). These four impairments were also most commonly-cited by people who had an impairment at Wave One only, or at Wave Two only.

Of the people with an impairment at Wave Two but not at Wave One, 40 per cent said they have a barrier in more life areas now than a year ago, while 33 per cent said they have a barrier in fewer life areas. In contrast, of those who have offset from impairment, 27 per cent said they have a barrier in more life areas now than a year ago, and 46 per cent said they have a barrier in fewer life areas.

Participation in leisure activities and using transport were the two most common areas in which people reported facing a barrier. This was true for all adults, regardless of their impairment status, and at both waves of survey.

For all adults with impairment at both waves, over two-thirds said that they had a barrier to work. This compares with around two-fifths of adults who have offset from impairment, or who have acquired an impairment at Wave Two.

For all working age adults (aged 16-64) with impairment at both waves, most adults remained employed (39 per cent), or economically inactive (around 46 per cent) at both waves. For working age adults who have offset from impairment, or who have acquired an impairment, most were employed at both waves (61 per cent and 62 per cent respectively). Generally, there has been little change in the economic activity status between waves for the people on the survey.

The next stage of the survey, Wave Three, began in October this year. In Wave Three people are asked to give reasons for any changes in the impairments and barriers they report. This will give us a greater understanding of the transient nature of disability, and in the kinds of “enablers” that help remove the barriers people face in their participation in society.

Read the full report.

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Background notes

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