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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1997  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 19/06/1997   
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Contents >> Work >> Paid Work: Employment of people with a handicap

Paid Work: Employment of people with a handicap

In 1993, the labour force participation rate for people aged 15-64 with a profound or severe handicap was 33% compared to 77% for those without a handicap.

An important means of both contributing to society and maintaining financial independence is through participation in paid employment.

The extent to which individuals are able to participate in work can be substantially affected by physical, psychological or intellectual impairments. Some young people with severe disabilities may never be able to work. However, as the likelihood of having a disability (and of more severe disabling conditions) tends to increase with age, it is more common for disabilities to impact on people later in their working life.

Responses to the effects of disabling conditions on a person's ability to work are many and varied. Some people are able to adjust their work arrangements, for example by reducing their hours of work. However, in recognition of the difficulties that many people face in getting jobs, government and community groups have developed a range of services to assist people with a disability in finding and maintaining employment.

These include promoting the concept of equal employment opportunity, supported by anti-discrimination laws such as the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, and government-funded incentive (or wage subsidy) schemes to encourage employers to engage people with a disability.

In recognising that many people cannot obtain paid employment due to their disability, the government also provides income support, the Disability Support Pension, as well as a range of benefits to those who meet the disability and income criteria.

WORKING-AGE PEOPLE, 1993

Working-age people
Disability and handicap status
'000
%

No disability
9,986.5
85.2
Disability
1,739.4
14.8
    Handicap
1,274.7
10.9
      Mild
515.9
4.4
      Moderate
234.2
2.0
      Severe
187.7
1.6
      Profound
100.2
0.9
      Not determined(a)
236.7
2.0
Total
11,726.0
100.0

(a) Severity of handicap was not determined for people who had an employment or schooling handicap only.

Source: Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings (cat. no. 4430.0 and unpublished data).


Disability and handicap

A disability is defined by the ABS as the presence of one or more of a number of listed limitations, restrictions or impairments which have lasted, or were likely to last, for six months or more.

A handicap is a limitation or restriction in performing certain tasks associated with daily living in the areas of self care, mobility, verbal communication, schooling or employment.

Severity of handicap is classified according to the level of difficulty people have, and the level of assistance they require in performing a range of tasks in the areas of self care, mobility and verbal communication. Handicap is classified into four levels of severity: profound (personal help or supervision always required); severe (personal help or supervision sometimes required); moderate (no help required, but some difficulty experienced); or mild (no difficulty experienced, but the use of an aid is required).

Working-age people

Working-age people are those aged 15-64 and living in households.


Working-age people with disabilities and handicaps
The 1993 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers found that, after excluding people who lived in institutions, 15% (1.7 million) of working-age people (i.e. aged 15-64) had a disability. This includes people with relatively minor impairments which are unlikely to affect their employment opportunities in any significant way.

Most people with a disability also had a handicap (1.3 million or 11% of working-age people). The proportion of working-age people with a handicap increased with age, from 5% among those aged 15-24 to 26% among those aged 55-64.

Of working-age people, 2% (288,000) had a severe or profound handicap, representing about one quarter (23%) of those with a handicap. The proportion of working-age people with a severe or profound handicap also increased with age, from 1% of those aged 15-24, to 5% of those aged 55-64.

LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION RATES OF WORKING-AGED PEOPLE, 1993



Source: Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings (cat. no. 4430.0 and unpublished data).


People permanently unable to work
In 1993, 3% of working-age people (391,000) were permanently unable to work, representing about one third (31%) of those with a handicap. Half of these (194,000) were aged 55-64.

People's ability to work is affected by the nature of their condition. Among people with a handicap, 62% of those whose main disabling condition was mental psychosis were permanently unable to work, compared to 30% of those whose main condition was of a physical nature.

A higher proportion of younger than older people with a handicap had a main disabling condition which was related to a mental, rather than a physical disorder, and this was also the case for people who were permanently unable to work. Among those who were permanently unable to work, 53% of those aged 15-24 had a main disabling condition that was a mental disorder, compared to 6% of those aged 55-64. In contrast, older people were more likely to be affected by various physical impairments, particularly arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions.

WORKING-AGED PEOPLE, 1993

Age group (years)

15-24
25-34
35-44
45-54
55-64
Total
Working-age people
%
%
%
%
%
%

People with a handicap
5.1
6.3
9.6
15.5
26.3
10.9
    Severe/profound handicap
1.3
1.7
2.4
3.5
4.7
2.5
    Permanently unable to work
0.5
1.0
1.9
5.2
13.3
3.3
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
Total people with a handicap
141.3
178.9
254.8
315.9
384.0
1,274.7
Total working-age people
2,748.6
2,821.8
2,659.1
2,034.6
1,461.8
11,726.0

Source: Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings (cat. no. 4430.0 and unpublished data).


Measuring demand for employment

The labour force participation rate for any group is the number of people in the labour force (i.e. employed and unemployed) expressed as a percentage of the population in that group. This definition is not a complete measure of demand for employment because it excludes people who would like to work, but have been discouraged by poor employment prospects from seeking work.

In the 1993 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, the labour force was defined as those people who were working or seeking work. This differs from the official measure collected in the Labour Force Survey because it does not check whether people looking for work have taken active steps to find work, and are available to start a job in the reference week.

The labour force participation rate can be considered a measure of demand for work by those supplying labour to the market. Correspondingly the unemployment rate is a measure of unmet demand for employment.


Demand for employment
The labour force participation rates of different population groups provide an indicator of their demand for work. In 1993, people with a handicap had a labour force participation rate (47%) well below that of people without a handicap (77%). This pattern was evident for all age groups, and was particularly marked among those aged 55-64. Only 26% of people with a handicap in this age group were in the labour force.

As might be expected, labour force participation rates declined with increasing severity of handicap. Of people with a mild handicap, 51% were in the labour force. This compares to 20% of those with a profound handicap.

Because disability (and severity of handicap) is related to age, some of the observed difference in labour force participation rates can be explained by the different age structures of the various groups. When adjusted for age, the differences in demand for employment, though less pronounced, remained significant. The age-standardised labour force participation rate for people without a handicap was 76%, compared to 59% for those with a mild, and 23% for those with a profound handicap.

Labour force participation rates were also affected by the nature of the handicap. People whose main disabling condition was physical had a higher labour force participation rate (48%) than those with a mental condition (37%). The labour force participation rate was lowest among those whose main condition was mental psychosis (19%), but relatively high among people with sight (62%) and hearing (72%) loss.

Working-age women were, in general, less likely than men to participate in the workforce, and this was also the case for women with a handicap.

LABOUR FORCE STATUS OF WORKING-AGED PEOPLE, 1993

Labour force participation rate

People
Unemployment rate


Men
Women
Actual
Standardised(a)
People
Disability status
%
%
%
%
%

No disability
88.2
65.6
76.9
76.3
12.0
Disability
62.6
46.1
54.9
60.0
17.8
    Disability without handicap
87.5
65.1
77.9
78.7
12.6
    Disability with handicap
52.6
39.9
46.5
52.7
21.0
      Mild
57.5
44.6
51.3
58.9
18.5
      Moderate
47.9
37.5
42.9
52.0
18.0
      Severe
39.8
39.9
39.9
41.5
22.2
      Profound
26.1
13.8*
19.9
23.3
20.9*
      Not determined(b)
64.7
44.2
56.2
62.0
27.6
Total
84.1
62.9
73.6
73.6
12.7

(a) Standardised to the 1993 population aged 15-64.
(b) Severity of handicap was not determined for the 237,000 people who had an employment or schooling handicap only.

Source: Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings (cat. no. 4430.0 and unpublished data).


Unmet demand for employment
As well as being less likely to participate in the labour force, people with a handicap who do participate are less likely than those without disabilities or handicaps to have their demand for work met. The 1993 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers found that 13% of people aged 15-64 were unemployed. However, the unemployment rate among people with a handicap was much higher at 21%.

People whose main disabling condition was a mental condition had a higher unemployment rate (28%) than those whose main condition was physical (20%). The unemployment rate was highest for people whose main disabling condition was a respiratory disease (32%), and comparatively low for people with sight and hearing loss (17%), arthritis (16%) and other musculoskeletal disorders (18%).

A factor contributing to high levels of unemployment among people with a handicap is the difficulty in finding jobs suitable to their requirements. 85% of unemployed working-age people with a handicap said they had employment limitations as a result of their handicap. 81% said they were restricted in the type of job they could do, 21% said they would often need time off work, and 30% said they were restricted in the number of hours they could work.

WORKING-AGED PEOPLE WITH HANDICAP, 1993

Proportion with condition
Labour force participation rate
Unemployment rate
Main disabling condition
%
%
%

Mental disorders
12.5
37.5
27.5
Physical conditions
87.5
47.8
20.3
    Eye disorders
2.5
61.5
16.7*
    Ear disorders
6.4
71.9
16.5
    Nervous system diseases
6.7
39.1
24.7
    Circulatory diseases
6.9
30.5
18.5*
    Respiratory diseases
7.8
49.3
31.7
    Arthritis
15.3
44.3
15.7
    Other musculoskeletal disorders
18.5
49.2
18.4
    Head injury/stroke/other brain damage
2.4
48.1
23.8*
    Other
20.9
48.2
21.7
Total
100.0
46.5
21.0

Source: Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (unpublished data).


Employment assistance

Under the Commonwealth/State Disability Agreement, the Commonwealth Government is responsible for the provision of employment services, while the States and Territories have responsibility for accommodation and other support. Responsibility for advocacy, information and research, and funding of services is shared between the two levels of government.

The Commonwealth Government, through the Disability Services Program administered by the Department of Health and Family Services, funds non-government organisations to assist people with a disability to find and stay in employment. A census of employment services in 1993 showed that on the census day, approximately 26,000 people were being supported by services funded under the Disability Services Program1.

The Department of Employment, Education and Youth Affairs offers a range of labour market programs targeted toward people with a disability.

The Disability Wage Supplement assists people with severe disabilities who are unable to work at full wages to receive a pro rata wage based on their level of disability.

As well as services and assistance targeted specifically at people with a disability, they are also able to access mainstream services, such as those provided by the Department of Employment, Education and Youth Affairs.


Working arrangements of employed people
In 1993, 37% (468,000) of all working-age people with a handicap were employed, compared to 68% of those without a handicap. Among older people aged 55-64 the effect of handicap on employment was even more pronounced. 22% of people in this age group with a handicap were employed, compared to 49% of those without a handicap.

As with unemployed people, many employees with a handicap (63%) said that they had employment limitations as a result of their handicap. When asked about the nature of the limitation, 63% of employees with a handicap said that they were restricted in the type of job they could do, and 33% said that they were limited in the number of hours they could work. 59% said their handicap made it difficult for them to change jobs, and 15% said their employer had to make special arrangements for their employment.

The effects of employment limitations, which are more significant among people with a severe or profound handicap, are reflected to some extent in the working arrangements and occupations they have adopted.

Among employed people, those with a handicap were more likely to work part time (29%) than those without a handicap (23%). This was particularly evident among employed people with a profound or severe handicap, 42% of whom worked on a part-time basis. People with a handicap were also more likely to be self employed, and to work from home.

People with a handicap work in a range of occupations, many of which are highly skilled and highly paid. However, a greater proportion of people with than without a handicap were employed in less-skilled occupations. In 1993, 18% of employed people with a handicap worked in labouring or related occupations compared to 13% of those without a handicap. Some of these people may have acquired their handicap through their work. However this in itself is unlikely to account for the high proportion of employed people with profound and severe handicaps who worked in these manual occupations (22%).

Those with a handicap were also slightly more likely than those without a handicap to work in the public sector (30% compared to 23%), possibly reflecting the leading role of government in promoting equal employment opportunity programs.

Of employed people with a handicap, those whose main disabling condition was a mental condition were more likely to report employment limitations (76%), than those whose main condition was physical (61%). They were also more likely to work part time, and in labouring or related occupations.

WORKING ARRANGEMENTS OF EMPLOYED WORKING-AGED PEOPLE, 1993

With a handicap

Severity of handicap
Main disabling condition


Working arrangements and limitations
Profound/severe
Moderate
Mild
Mental
Physical
Total with a handicap
Total without a handicap
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

With employment limitations(a)
78.8
57.1
46.2
75.9
61.4
62.7
. .
Worked less than 35 hours per week
42.0
30.2
25.3
37.7
28.3
29.2
23.4
Worked in labourer and related occupations
21.9
13.4
15.7
26.4
17.0
17.9
13.4
Self employed
14.0
22.6
16.8
10.1*
17.6
16.9
13.6
Worked at home
9.4*
12.1
11.0
9.3*
11.3
11.1
6.1
Worked in the public sector
27.6
31.0
31.4
22.3
30.3
29.5
23.2
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
'000
Total employed people
74.0
82.5
215.6
43.4
425.1
468.5
7,071.5

(a) Refers to employees only.

Source: Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (unpublished data).


Endnotes
1 Commonwealth Department of Human Services and Health 1994, Service Consumer Profile Report 1993, AGPS, Canberra.



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