Members' Publications

Great Britain: Being disabled in Britain – a journey less equal

Being disabled in Britain is a review into disability inequality in Great Britain. It builds on the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s statutory five-yearly report on equality and human rights progress in England, Scotland and Wales, Is Britain Fairer?.

The report includes chapters on six areas of life, including education, work, health, justice and participation in politics, looking at where there has been progress and where there are still serious issues to be tackled. It also looks at the experiences of those with different impairments and how these impact on people’s life chances.

The report, which contains recommendations for the UK and devolved governments, found that progress towards real equality for disabled people over the past twenty years is insufficient and littered with missed opportunities and failures. The report noted that disabled people in Britain are experiencing disadvantages in all six key areas of life, and sets out vital areas for urgent improvement. Despite significant progress in the laws protecting disabled people’s rights, they are still not being treated as equal citizens and continue to be denied the opportunities and outcomes non-disabled people take for granted.

Key findings included that:

  • Education: While the educational attainment gap between disabled and non-disabled children has reduced since 2009/10, the performance of disabled pupils in England, Wales and Scotland is still much lower. In England, the proportion of children with Special Educational Needs achieving at least 5 A*-C GCSEs is three times lower than for non-disabled children (20.0% and 64.2% respectively). They are also significantly more likely to be permanently or temporarily excluded;
  • The qualification gap between disabled and non-disabled people has narrowed, but the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people, and the proportion of disabled people with a degree remained lower;
  • Employment: More disabled and non-disabled people overall are in work in Britain in 2015/16. Despite this, less than half of disabled adults are in employment (47.6%), compared with almost 80% of non-disabled adults, and the gap between these groups has widened since 2010/11. However this is not the case across all impairment types, and for those with ‘mental health conditions’ and those with ‘physical disabilities’ the gap between them and non-disabled people has narrowed;
  • The disability pay gap in Britain also continues to widen. Disabled young people (aged 16-24) and disabled women had the lowest median hourly earnings of all;
  • Socioeconomic Status: More disabled people than non-disabled are living in poverty or are materially deprived;
  • Social security reforms have had a particularly disproportionate, cumulative impact on the rights to independent living and an adequate standard of living for disabled people. Families in the UK with a disabled member are more likely to live in relative poverty than non-disabled families;
  • Across the UK, 18.4% of disabled people aged 16-64 were considered to be in food poverty compared with 7.5% of non-disabled people. Disabled people over the age of 65 were twice as likely as non-disabled people in the same age group to be in food poverty;
  • Housing: Disabled people continue to face problems in finding adequate housing, due to a shortage in accessible housing across Britain, and in Scotland the amount of wheelchair-adapted local authority housing for physically disabled people has decreased. Disabled people in Britain were also less likely to own their own home;
  • Health: Accessing healthcare services is problematic for disabled people, and they are less likely to report positive experiences. Considerable shortcomings remain in all three countries in the provision of mental health services, where disabled adults are more likely to report poor mental health and wellbeing than non-disabled adults.
  • Detentions in health and social care settings under the Mental Health Act 1983 are continuing to increase in England and Wales. The number of detentions in hospitals increased from 46,600 in 2009/10 to 63,622 in 2016.

Further Information

For more information about the research, the report itself and disability advice and guidance, please check the EHRC website.

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