One-in-seven workers in Britain today have a disability, with the biggest growth among those reporting mental health problems

A huge increase in the number of working-age people with a disability (up 2.3 million over the past decade), coupled with rising employment rates among disabled people, mean that the share of workers with a disability has grown by 50 per cent since 2013 to around one-in-seven of workers, according to new Resolution Foundation research published today (Thursday).

The Foundation’s latest Labour Market Outlook examines the rise in employment among disabled people, what has driven the rise, the changing nature of disability in the workplace, and what it means for workers, firms and policy makers.

The report notes that the issue of ill-health in the workforce has brought been into focus by the emergence of long Covid, and the long-term implications it can carry for workers. However, this issue is just one part of a far broader and longer-term rise in disabled people in employment.

Overall, the number of working-age people with a disability has increased by 2.3 million since 2013, while the number of disabled people in employment has increased by 1.9 million over the same period.

The report notes that the majority of this employment growth has been driven by rising employment rates among disabled people, particularly among traditionally low employment groups such as those with depression (from 36 per cent in 2013 to 57 per cent in 2022), other mental illnesses (from 18 to 31 per cent) and learning difficulties (from 16 to 31 per cent).

While these improvements suggest welcome improvements to working conditions and the removal of barriers for disabled workers, the report cautions that a substantial part of the overall growth in disabled people’s employment is due to more people reporting that have a disability. The share of the population reporting any disability has grown by 5.3 percentage points over the past decade.

This is especially true in the case of mental health-related disabilities. At the start of 2022 over three times as many disabled workers reported a mental illness than in 2013, equivalent to 2.4 per cent of the overall working-age population (1.1 million workers in total).

While this increase in reported disability could simply be down to growing societal awareness of mental health and depression, additional evidence using the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) – one of the most reliable and commonly-used methods of measuring mental health problems in the population – suggests the rise is part of a genuine, long-term trend.

The Foundation adds that while progress has clearly been made over the past decade, the fact that the overall disability employment rate gap remains high at 28 percentage points (with employment rates for disabled and non-disabled people at 54 and 82 per cent respectively), shows that far more needs to be done to disabled people’s employment opportunities.

In particular, the report says that firms and policy makers should be aware of the huge growth in the number of disabled workers reporting depression and other mental health conditions, and ensure that they have appropriate workplace support so that they’re able to stay and thrive at work.

Charlie McCurdy, Economist at the Resolution Foundation, said:

“The number of disabled people in employment has increased by almost two million over the past decade. And while some of this progress is due to a genuine breaking down of barriers, and improved employer and Government support for disabled workers, it is also due to more people reporting a disability.

“Mental health problems in particular now affect a significantly larger proportion of disabled workers than a decade ago, and have played a big part in the increases in the number of people reporting a disability while also being in employment.

“Going forwards, the Government and employers must take action to ensure appropriate workplace support for people with these conditions is in place – as well as ensuring that all disabled people who wish to work receive the accommodations they need to do so.”

Notes to Editors

  • This report uses data from the ONS’ Labour Force Survey. The LFS underwent changes in 2010 and 2013, which means that disability-related estimates from 2013 onwards are not comparable with the periods 2010 to 2012 or for the pre-2010 periods.