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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2005  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/07/2005   
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Contents >> Work >> Labour force characteristics of people with a disability

Paid Work: Labour Force Characteristics of People with a Disability

In 2003, working-age people with a disability had a lower labour force participation rate (53%) and a higher unemployment rate (8.6%) than other working-age Australians (81% and 5.0% respectively).

Income gained through employment is vital to the wellbeing of many working-age Australians and their families, contributing to their financial independence and security. People with reported disability generally experience lower levels of employment than other Australians.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) aims to give people with a disability the right to substantive equality of opportunity in specific areas of activity, making direct and indirect discrimination in employment unlawful. (endnote 1) In addition to legislative protection, employment support is provided through the Commonwealth State/Territory Disability Agreement (CSTDA).

Many people with a disability are also assisted by the provision of income support or supplementation through a range of pensions and allowances. Government spending on the Disability Support Pension has grown significantly over recent decades, with the number of recipients increasing from 222,000 in June 1981 (endnote 2) to 706,000 in March 2005 (endnote 3).

As the ratio of adults not in employment to those in employment is expected to increase in coming decades, greater labour force participation is being encouraged by the Commonwealth government, among both the population in general and among people with a disability. More people undertaking paid work, and more hours worked by people currently employed for a small number of hours per week, would reduce government spending on pensions and allowances, thereby contributing to the long term sustainability of public finances. (endnote 4)


Data sources and definitions

Data presented in this article are from the ABS 2003 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC). Comparable historical data are from the ABS 1998 SDAC. Unless otherwise stated, this article limits its analysis to working-age people (i.e. people aged 15-64 years) living in households (comprising private dwellings and some non-private dwellings such as hostels for the homeless, boarding houses, staff quarters and camping grounds).

Disability as defined in SDAC refers to a limitation, restriction or impairment, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least six months. This definition is consistent with the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health, which defines disability as an umbrella term for impairments, activity limitations and participation restrictions.

People with a profound core-activity limitation always need help with self care, mobility or communication, or are unable to do these tasks. People with a severe core-activity limitation sometimes need help with self care, mobility or communication; or have difficulty understanding or being understood by family or friends; or communicate more easily using sign language or other non-spoken forms of communication.

For any given population, the labour force participation rate is the proportion who are employed or unemployed. Similarly, for any population, the unemployment rate is the number who are unemployed expressed as a percentage of the total number who are employed or unemployed.

DISABILITY STATUS (a) BY LABOUR FORCE STATUS
1998
2003
Profound or
severe core-activity
limitation(b)
All with reported
disability(c)
No reported
disability
Profound or
severe core-activity
limitation(b)
All with reported disability(c)
No reported disability

Labour force status
%
%
%
%
%
%
Employed full-time
17.4
31.0
52.7
13.9
30.8
54.2
Employed part-time
13.4
16.1
21.1
13.1
17.8
22.3
Unemployed
3.8
6.1
6.3
3.0
4.6
4.0
Not in the labour force
65.3
46.8
19.9
70.0
46.8
19.4
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
Total
490.6
2,066.7
10,388.4
500.2
2,228.8
11,164.3

%
%
%
%
%
%
Participation rate
34.7
53.2
80.1
30.0
53.2
80.6
Unemployment rate
11.0
11.5
7.8
10.1
8.6
5.0

(a) Among persons aged 15-64 years living in households.
(b) Core activities comprise communication, mobility and self care.
(c) Includes those who do not have a specific limitation or restriction.


PEOPLE WITH A DISABILITY

The number of 15-64 year olds with a disability increased by about 160,000 between 1998 and 2003 (from less than 2.1 million to more than 2.2 million) although the proportion with a disability remained at 17%. Around one-fifth (22%) of those with a disability had a profound or severe core-activity limitation in 2003, down slightly from 24% in 1998.

Disability rates increase with age. In 2003, the rate of reported disability among 15-19 year olds was 9%. This rate was higher for successively older age groups, reaching 39% of 60-64 year olds. Of the five disability groups listed in the adjacent box, the likelihood of having a physical disability increased most strongly with age, from 4% of 15-19 year olds to 32% of 60-64 year olds.


LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION

Labour force participation (working or looking for work) provides an indication of both the desire for paid work and the ability to obtain and perform such work. People with disabilities have lower rates of labour force participation than people without disabilities. Just over half of all people with a disability participate in the labour force compared with four in five people without a disability.

In 2003, most (58%) working-age people with a disability who were not in the labour force reported being permanently unable to work. The majority (52%) of those permanently unable to work were aged 55 years or older. Some disability groups had higher rates of reported permanent incapacity for work than others. For example, 48% of people with a psychological disability reported being permanently unable to work, compared with 28% of those with a sensory disability.

Participation rates for working-age people with and without disabilities did not change between 1998 and 2003. However, there was some change within the disability population. People with profound or severe core-activity limitation decreased their participation in the labour force over this period while other people with a disability increased theirs.


Disability groups

Disabilities can be broadly grouped depending on the type of functional limitation. A person could be classified to more than one of the following five disability groups.
  • Sensory or speech (loss of sight or hearing, or speech difficulties)
  • Intellectual (difficulty in learning or understanding things)
  • Physical (such as chronic or recurrent pain, incomplete use of arms or fingers, disfigurement or deformity, etc.)
  • Psychological (nervous or emotional condition, or mental illnesses or conditions)
  • Head injury, stroke or other brain damage (with long-term effects that restrict everyday activities)

Physical limitations were the most common form of disability, followed by sensory or speech limitations.

DISABILITY STATUS(a) BY LABOUR FORCE STATUS - 2003
Males
Females
Profound or severe
core-activity
limitation(b)
All with reported
disability(c)
No reported
disability
Profound or severe core-activity limitation(b)
All with reported disability(c)
No reported
disability

Labour force status
%
%
%
%
%
%
Employed full-time
21.1
41.7
71.8
7.7
19.5
36.5
Employed part-time
9.4
12.4
12.7
16.3
23.5
32.0
Unemployed
*3.3
5.2
4.3
*2.8
3.9
3.8
Not in the labour force
66.3
40.7
11.1
73.2
53.1
27.8
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
Total
229.8
1,137.2
5,603.6
270.4
1,091.6
5,560.7

%
%
%
%
%
%
Participation rate
33.7
59.3
88.9
26.8
46.9
72.2
Unemployment rate
*9.7
8.8
4.8
*10.5
8.3
5.3

(a) Among persons aged 15-64 years living in households.
(b) Core activities comprise communication, mobility and self care.
(c) Includes those who do not have a specific limitation or restriction.

...age and sex

In 2003, labour force participation rates varied with age. People aged 25-44 years were more likely to be in the labour force than older working-age people. This difference prevailed among people with a disability, and people without a disability to a lesser degree. Lower participation by 45-64 year olds may partly mirror both the desire for early retirement and difficulties experienced by mature-age job seekers which can discourage some from looking for work.

Differences in labour force participation between working-age men and women were also evident among those with a disability, with women less likely to participate in the labour force than men.

...disability characteristics

In some cases, the severity of the disability limits the person's participation in the labour market. Generally, labour force participation decreases as severity of disability increases. People with a profound or severe core-activity limitation had the lowest participation rate of 30% in 2003 (compared with 81% of people without a disability).

The nature of the disability can also limit labour market participation. People with sensory disabilities were most likely to be participating in the labour market (54%) whereas people with psychological disabilities were least likely (28%). This difference may reflect greater difficulty in accommodating people with psychological conditions in the workplace, and greater difficulty faced by people with these conditions in obtaining and retaining a job.

Labour force participation rate(a) by age Group - 2003
Graph: Labour force participation rate (a) by age Group - 2003
(a) Among persons aged 15–64 years living in households.
(b) Core activities comprise communication, mobility and self care.
(c) Includes those who do not have a specific limitation or restriction.

Source: ABS 2003 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers.

Participation and unemployment among disability groups(a) - 2003

Graph: Participation and unemployment among disability groups (a) - 2003


...employment restrictions

Some people with disabilities experience employment restrictions such as being unable to work, being restricted in the types or hours of work they can do, or needing special assistance in the workplace. People with disabilities who had an employment restriction were far less likely to be participating in the labour market (45%) than those without an employment restriction (72%). Of the 1.5 million people who had a disability and an employment restriction, 39% reported being permanently unable to work.

The more severe a person's core-activity restriction the more likely it was that he or she had an employment restriction. While 70% of working-age people with a reported disability had an employment restriction, the rate was higher for those with severe (90%) and profound (95%) levels of core-activity limitation. Among the disability groups, the proportion with an employment restriction ranged from 64% of the sensory or speech group to 91% of the psychological group.


Income support

According to data from the General Social Survey (GSS) conducted by the ABS in 2002, among adults living in private households, more than half (53%) of those with a disability or long-term health condition were receiving a government cash pension or allowance. For the most part, this was their principal source of income: 83% of those receiving a government cash pension or allowance relied mainly on this source for their income.

Of those 18-64 year olds with disabilities or long-term health conditions who were receiving a government cash pension or allowance in 2002, 33% were receiving the Disability Support Pension and 17% were receiving an employment-related allowance (e.g. Newstart or Youth Allowance). For a more detailed discussion of income and other support services for people with a disability, see Australian Social Trends 2004, Support for people with a disability).


EMPLOYED PEOPLE

Paid work can provide many benefits including an income, skill development and a sense of contributing to the community. In 2003, among 15-64 year olds, more than three-quarters (77%) of those with no reported disability were employed. The rate of employment was considerably lower among those with a disability (49%), and much lower still among those with a profound or severe core-activity limitation (27%). Women with and without disabilities were less likely to be employed than men, consistent with their lower labour force participation. Women were also more likely to be working part-time than men.

Increased severity of disability was also associated with greater propensity to work part-time rather than full-time. Among employed 15-64 year olds, 29% of those with no disability usually worked less than 35 hours each week in all jobs. This rate of part-time work was higher among those with a disability (37%), and higher again among those with a profound or severe core-activity limitation (49%). One-quarter of the latter usually worked less than 16 hours per week.

In addition to being more likely to work part-time hours, employed working-age people with a reported disability were a little more likely than other employed working-age people to have more than one job (11% compared with 9%) and to run their own unincorporated business without employees (own account workers - 13% compared with 9%). Those with a disability were also more likely to be working some hours at home (37% compared with 31%).

Some employers make special arrangements to accommodate people with disabilities in their workplace. This happened for 12% of wage or salary earners with disabilities, in 2003. Around 6% had been provided with special equipment by their employer and 3% had been allocated different duties. Nearly 3% had been provided with, or allowed to have, a special support person to give ongoing assistance or supervision at work because of their health condition(s). Of the disability groups, wage or salary earners with a sensory or speech disability were least likely to have had a special arrangement made for them by their employer (12%), while those in the psychological group were most likely (27%).

People with and without disabilities had similar distributions across occupation groups, industries and the public and private sectors. Some industries had a higher than average (11%) disability prevalence rate, particularly Agriculture, forestry and fishing (16%), while Labourers and related workers had the highest disability rate among the occupation groups (15%).
These relatively high disability rates may be due to several factors. For example, in the 12 months to September 2000, both Agriculture, forestry and fishing workers and Labourers and related workers had comparatively high rates of injury (see Australian Social Trends 2002, Work-related injuries). Also, in November 2003, a relatively high proportion of Agriculture, forestry and fishing workers were aged 45-64 years (see Australian Social Trends 2004, Mature age workers). Given that disability rates increase with age, an industry with an older than average workforce might be expected to have a higher than average disability rate.

Further, in 2003, among employed 15-64 year olds, those with a disability were more likely than others to have a highest level of educational attainment of Year 10 or below (26% compared with 20%). This lower educational attainment by people with a disability may partly explain their over representation in the lowest ranked skill-level occupation group comprising Labourers and related workers, as occupational skill level partly reflects formal education and training required for entry.

Hours usually worked each week(a)
Graph: Hours usually worked each week(a)
(a) By persons aged 15–64 years living in households.
(b) Core activities comprise communication, mobility and self care.
(c) Includes those who do not have a specific limitation or restriction.

Source: ABS 2003 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers.


SPECIAL ARRANGEMENTS MADE BY EMPLOYERS BECAUSE OF HEALTH CONDITIONS OF WAGE OR SALARY EARNERS(a) - 2003

%
No special arrangement made
87.7
At least one special arrangement made
12.3
Special equipment
6.4
Different duties
2.9
Special support person(b)
2.6
Building or fitting modification
1.8
Help from someone at work
1.3
Training or retraining
*0.7
Special or free transport or parking
*0.5
Another special arrangement
1.5

'000
Total(a)
826.4

(a) Wage or salary earners aged 15-64 years with a reported disability living in households.
(b) To give ongoing assistance or supervision.
Source: ABS 2003 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers.

CSTDA-funded employment services

The Commonwealth government is responsible for the planning, policy setting and management of employment services - such as job placement, workplace support and counselling, and direct employment - which are funded under the third Commonwealth State/Territory Disability Agreement (CSTDA), 2002-07. These CSTDA-funded employment services are intended to benefit only people with disabilities that are likely to be permanent and result in substantially reduced capacity in self care/management, mobility or communication, requiring significant ongoing and/or long-term episodic support, and which manifest before the age of 65. (endnote 5)

During the first six months of 2003, there were an estimated 54,952 users of CSTDA-funded employment services. Most of these users were either unable to perform activities of daily living or always or sometimes needed support to perform them. However, more than a third of all CSTDA-funded employment service users did not need any support with these activities of daily living. (endnote 6)
USERS OF CSTDA-FUNDED EMPLOYMENT SERVICES - 1 JANUARY TO 30 JUNE 2003
Frequency of support needed with activities of daily living(a)
no.
%

Always
5,726
10.4
Sometimes
27,497
50.0
None but uses aids
2,599
4.7
None
17,836
32.5
Not stated
1,294
2.4
Total
54,952
100.0

(a) Comprises self-care, mobility and communication.

Source: AIHW 2004, Disability support services 2002–03.


UNEMPLOYED PEOPLE

As well as being less likely to participate in the labour force, people with a disability who do participate are less likely to be working. The unemployment rate for working-age people with disabilities in 2003 was 8.6% compared to 5.0% for people without disabilities. The unemployment rate was lower for both groups than in 1998.

The unemployment rate varied considerably between disability groups. Groups with a relatively high rate of participation in the labour force (i.e. the physical group and the sensory or speech group) had comparatively low unemployment rates (7.4% and 9.3% respectively). Conversely, the psychological group had a low labour force participation rate (28%) and a high unemployment rate (19.5%). These labour market outcomes were poorer than prevailed among people with a profound or severe core-activity limitation (30% participation rate and 10.1% unemployment rate).

Around one-third (34%) of unemployed people with a disability were long-term unemployed (i.e. had been unemployed for at least the previous 52 weeks). This was higher than for unemployed people without a disability (23%). Those with a disability were also a little more likely to be looking for part-time work than those without a disability (36% compared with 34%).

People with disabilities may use mainstream or specialist disability employment services to help them obtain work. For example, some 10% of unemployed 15-64 year olds with a disability were receiving assistance from a disability job placement program or agency.

Selected characteristics of unemployed persons(a) - 2003
Graph: Selected characteristics of unemployed persons(a) - 2003
(a) Aged 15–64 years living in households.
(b) Core activities comprise communication, mobility and self care.
(c) Includes those who do not have a specific limitation or restriction.
(d) Unemployed for a period of 52 weeks or longer.
(e) From a disability job placement program or agency.

Source: ABS 2003 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers.


ENDNOTES

1 Productivity Commission 2004, Review of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, Volume 1: Chapters, Report no.30 <http://www.pc.gov.au/inquiry/dda/finalreport/dda1.pdf>, accessed 10 May 2005.
2 Department of Family and Community Services 2003, Income support customers: A statistical overview 2001, Occasional paper no. 7 <http://www.facs.gov.au/internet/facsinternet.nsf/VIA/occasional_papers/$File/No7.pdf>, accessed 17 May 2005.

3 Centrelink SuperStar Pensions Database.

4 Treasury Department 2002, Intergenerational Report 2002–03: In brief, Canberra.

5 Department of Family and Community Services 2002, Agreement between the Commonwealth of Australia and States and Territories of Australia in relation to Disability Services <http://www.facs.gov.au/internet/facsinternet.nsf/via/cstda/$file/cstda_9Apr04.pdf>, accessed 18 May 2005.

6 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2004, Disability support services 2002–03: the first six months of data from the Commonwealth State/Territory Disability Agreement National Minimum Data Set, AIHW Cat. No. DIS 35, AIHW, Canberra.


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