How we’re using data to understand complex disabilities in the UK

The Policy, Public Affairs and Research Team at Sense works to change government policy to improve the lives of people with complex disabilities. We believe that policy can best meet the needs of the people we exist to support when it is informed by the realities of their lives and experiences.

Two women holding hands

However, information and statistics on complex disabilities has historically been limited in the UK. This evidence gap has had knock-on effects. For example, support that fails to consider the co-existing needs someone with complex disabilities might have.

This is why we have worked with the National Centre for Social Research to fill this gap, and we are very pleased to be able to quantify the number of people with complex disabilities in the UK for the first time.

Understanding the scale of complex disabilities

Our research has shown us that: 

  • 1 in 10 disabled people have complex disabilities.   
  • There are 1.6 million people with complex disabilities in the UK today. 
  • There are projected to be two million people with complex disabilities in the UK by 2029.

Our findings are based on analysis of data from the Family Resources Survey (FRS) – this is a leading source of data on disability published annually by the UK Government’s Department for Work and Pensions.

Operationalising complex disability

Part of our research process was working out how to operationalise the concept of complex disabilities and turn it into something we could measure using data from the FRS.

For the purposes of this research, someone has complex disabilities if they have two or more of the following, and they report that their life is impacted by their disabilities:

  • Sight loss
  • Hearing loss
  • Autism
  • Learning disability

Breaking down the data

We have been able to estimate how many people with complex disabilities are living in different areas of the country. Most people with complex disabilities in the UK live in England (approximately 1.4 million people), but many also live in Scotland (approximately 157,000 people), Wales (approximately 84,000 people) and Northern Ireland (approximately 52,000 people).

We have also been able to research age, sex and ethnicity as part of our analysis to give us an even greater understanding of the characteristics of people with complex disabilities.

Sharing the findings with decision makers

We are sharing these findings with policy makers, such as MPs, to help them understand how many people there are with complex disabilities across the UK as well as in their local area and the importance of providing people with the right support.

This research is an exciting step forward which will help us to continue to work with decision makers to raise awareness of complex disabilities, highlight the inequalities and barriers that people face, and ensure that no one is left out of life.

Find out more about our research findings, including breakdowns across the UK and the methodology we used.

If you have any questions about the research or would like localised data for your area, please contact [email protected]