Five things research tells us about disabled people’s lives in 2021

I’m Rachael and I work in Sense’s policy, public affairs and research team. My job is to make sure that we understand how disabilities affect people’s lives through research. And that means that I’m always looking for the latest data.

Here’s five things we’ve learnt from research so far this year.

1. The number of disabled people in the UK is growing

To make sure we’re working for disabled people, it’s important to know just how many people are affected in the UK. The latest figures released last week in the Government Family Resources Survey show that there are now 14.1 million disabled people in the UK, which means that 1 in every 5 people are disabled.

2. Many aspects of life have changed due to the pandemic

Life has been very different for everyone in the last year or so. But research by the Office for National Statistics found that the impacts of the pandemic are especially far reaching for disabled people. About a third (32%) of people say that their health is being affected, a third (34%) say their relationships have been affected and a quarter (27%) having limited access to groceries, medication and essentials.

Sense’s Forgotten Families research last year found that community support reductions were having a big impact on disabled people and their families and these new figures show that not much has changed since then.

3. There’s still a big gap in the number of employed disabled people compared to non-disabled people

Disabled people can face many barriers in getting into and staying in work. Unfortunately, the latest research by the ONS found that only just over half of disabled people (52%) aged 16 to 64 years are in employment compared with around 8 in 10 (81%) of non-disabled people. The better news is that this gap is narrower for some groups for example, 72% of people with hearing loss are in employment, as are 57% of people with sight loss.

4. Loneliness is having a big impact on disabled people’s health

The pandemic has shown how loneliness can affect everyone. As we exit lockdown, thousands of disabled people still face loneliness and isolation every day. 

A poll of 1,000 disabled people by Sense found that 61% are always or often lonely. Even before the pandemic, 33% would be limited to having under an hour interaction with someone else each day and 70% say that social isolation is now affecting their mental health. Sense’s Left out of life campaign is all about tackling social isolation and loneliness. If you agree that no one should be left out of life, make sure you sign our pledge now.

5. Disabled people have lower health and wellbeing levels than non-disabled people

Disabled people rate themselves lower for happiness, life satisfaction and how worthwhile they think their lives are, compared to non-disabled people. Average anxiety levels were higher for disabled people. For example, 30% of disabled adults report low levels of happiness compared to 13% of non-disabled adults.

At Sense we believe that no one, no matter how complex their disabilities, should be isolated, left out, or unable to fulfil their potential. This research is just the first step. Next, we’ll use the research findings to campaign to improve lives. And you can help.




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