One of the priority outcomes of the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 is to ‘increase access to employment opportunities as a key to improving economic security and personal wellbeing for people with disability…’(Endnote 1). Employment can provide financial independence, a better standard of living and improved physical and mental health (Endnote 2). Entering employment can provide individuals with increased confidence, expanding their social network and social skills as well as opportunities to develop a career by gaining new work skills and knowledge.
Recent decades have seen major developments towards achieving workplace equality for all Australians, including those with disability. The Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) (Endnote 3) aims to protect people from discrimination because of their disability. Following a Productivity Commission Review (Endnote 4) in 2004, the DDA was changed to further protect the equality of opportunity for people with disability. In addition to legislative protection, since 2009 employment support has been provided through the National Disability Agreement (NDA) (Endnote 5).
Although there have been improvements in anti-discrimination legislation, Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC) data show that people with disability are still less likely to be participating in the labour force than other Australians. According to data from SDAC, there has been little change in the labour force participation rate for people with disability aged 15-64 years between 1993 (54.9%) and 2012 (52.8%).
PEOPLE WITH DISABILITY
In 2012, there were 2.2 million (14.4%) Australians aged 15-64 years, of 'prime working age', with disability. Just over half (51.0%) of people with disability in this age bracket were women.
The likelihood of living with disability increases with age. In 2012, the disability rate among 15-24 year olds was 7.9% and the rate was higher for successively older age groups, with 18.0% of 45-54 year olds, and 29.0% of 55-64 year olds living with disability in 2012.
LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION
Labour force participation rates provide a measure of the proportion of the population who are either employed or actively looking for work. Between 1993 and 2012, the labour force participation rate for working-age people (15-64 years) with disability was relatively stable. In 1993, the rate was 54.9%, and this was broadly similar in 2012 at 52.8%. Conversely, over the same period, the participation rate for working-age people without disability increased from 76.9% in 1993 to 82.5% in 2012.
Over the nineteen years from 1993 to 2012, the unemployment rate for 15-64 year olds with disability decreased from 17.8% to 9.4%, in line with the similar decline in unemployment for those without disability (from 12.0% in 1993 to 4.9% in 2012). However, in 2012 the unemployment rate for people with disability continued to be significantly higher than for those without disability.
In 2012, nearly half (47.3%) of all working-age people with disability were not in the labour force, that is they were neither employed nor actively looking for work. One-third (33.6%) of these people were permanently unable to work, while one-fifth (19.3% or 201,500) had no employment restriction, reporting that it was not their disability which was preventing them from working.
AGE AND SEX
Labour force participation rates for people with disability varied with age, a similar pattern to people without disability. The difference in labour force participation between people with and without disability increased with age.
Source(s): Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, 2012
The participation rate for people with disability peaked in the 25-34 year age group while for those without disability, participation peaked at 45-54 years. People aged 55-64 years with disability had the lowest participation rate (40.9%) of all the age groups. Their lower participation rate may partly reflect the desire for retirement or difficulties experienced by mature-age job seekers, which can discourage some from looking for work.(Endnote 6)
There were differences in labour force participation between working-age men and women among those with disability, with women (49.0%) less likely to participate than men (56.6%). This was also true for people without disability (76.5% and 88.5% respectively).
STATE OR TERRITORY
For people with disability, Labour Force participation rates were highest in the ACT and lowest in Tasmania, compared with those without disability where NT had the highest participation rates and NSW has the lowest. A similar pattern can be seen with the unemployment rate. For people with disability, the ACT experienced the lowest unemployment rate (4.9%) and Tasmania had the highest (14.9%). Where as, for people without disability, NT had the lowest rate with 2.6% and Tasmania had the highest at 5.3%.
Source(s): Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, 2012
People can be affected by more than one type of disability and therefore be classified into one or more disability groups. Of the five main disability groups, the most common in 2012 was physical restriction, which affected two-thirds (67.5%) of working-age people with disability. This was much higher than the proportion of people with psychological disability (21.7%) or sensory and speech disability (20.4%).
The type of disability that an individual has can affect their likelihood of participating in the labour market. People with sensory or speech impairment had the best labour market outcomes with a participation rate of 56.2% and an unemployment rate of 7.7%. People with a physical restriction had the next highest participation rate of 47.4% and an unemployment rate of 8.2%. The disability group with the lowest participation rate (29.1%), and the highest unemployment rate (20.4%) was people with a psychological disability. People with sensory or speech or a physical impairment may be able to benefit from assistive technologies but this is not the case for people with psychological disability such as mental illness. People with mental illness may experience disruption to their work attendance and career due to the episodic nature of their disability (Endnote 7).
The severity of disability is an indication of a person’s limitations in the core activities of communication, mobility and self-care. Of people aged 15-64 years with disability, one-quarter (24.8%) had profound or severe disability, while nearly half (47.9%) had moderate or mild disability. Just over one-quarter (27.4%) of people with disability did not have a core activity limitation, yet they may have had a schooling or employment restriction.
As with disability type, the severity of a person’s disability is reflected in their ability to participate in the labour force. Generally, labour force participation decreases as the severity of disability increases. In 2012, those aged 15-64 years with moderate or mild disability had a participation rate of 52.5%, while those with profound or severe disability had a labour force participation rate of 29.7%. This pattern was evident across all types of disability. For example, the participation rate of those with moderate or mild physical restriction was 48.8%, while those with profound or severe physical restriction had a participation rate of 26.3%.
To see a pattern in unemployment rates, severity and type of disability need to be analysed together. For example, the unemployment rate for people with intellectual disability or psychological disability was high in comparison with other disability groups, regardless of severity. Those with moderate or mild intellectual disability (34.9%) or psychological disability (24.7%) had a higher unemployment rate than those with moderate or mild physical disability (8.1%) or sensory & speech disability (7.6%). This may partly reflect the unique barriers that people with intellectual disability or psychological disability face in accessing education and work.
Some people with disability experience employment restrictions such as being restricted in the type of job they can do or the number of hours they can work, or needing special assistance in the workplace. People with disability who had an employment restriction were far less likely to be participating in the labour force (44.0%) than those without an employment restriction (71.3%).
Of the 68.1% of people with disability who had an employment restriction, three of the most common restrictions were the type of job, difficulty changing jobs or getting a preferred job and the number of hours they could work. People with profound or severe disability were the most likely to have some kind of employment restriction (84.8%).
In Australia in 2012, over one million working-age people with disability (47.7%) were in paid employment, comprising 8.8% of the total Australian workforce. Men with disability (51.3%) were more likely to be employed than women with disability (44.4%).
Generally, people with disability who were employed were more likely than people without disability to work part-time (39.8% and 29.6% respectively). The number of hours usually worked by people with disability was associated with the severity and the type of their disability.
People with profound or severe disability who worked were more likely to work part-time hours than those with less severe disability. Nevertheless, almost half (48.2%) of those with profound or severe disability who were working, worked full-time.
Among the five disability groups, psychological and intellectual disability have greater association with fewer working hours. Almost one-third (32.9%) of people with psychological disability who worked, usually worked no more than 15 hours, followed by people with intellectual disability (30.7%). In contrast, about two-thirds of employed people with sensory or speech disability (65.3%) or physical disability (59.3%) worked full-time.
Source(s): Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, 2012
Not only were people with disability more likely to be employed part-time, they were also more likely to be underemployed. Almost one-third of the people with disability (32.4%) who were working part-time wanted to work more hours, compared with just over one-quarter of people without disability (27.1%). The level of underemployment varied with the severity of the disability, ranging from 22.0% of those with a profound core activity limitation to 38.2% of those with an educational or employment restriction only.
The level of underemployment also varied depending on the type of disability a person had - people with an intellectual or psychological disability were more likely to be underemployed (38.8% and 36.2% respectively) than people with a physical restriction (29.4%).
OCCUPATION AND INDUSTRY
Almost one-fifth (19.9%) of working-age people with disability who were employed in 2012 worked as professionals, followed by labourers (15.2%) and clerical and administrative workers (14.1%). The distribution of people across different occupations is similar for people with and without disability with the exception of Labourers, who had a significantly higher proportion of people with disability (15.2%) compared with those without (9.0%). However, there was some variation of occupations according to the type of disability. For example, almost one-half (44.3%) of employed people with intellectual disability were working as labourers, such as packers and product assemblers or cleaners and laundry workers, in 2012, while one-fifth (20.4%) of employed people with a physical disability were in professional occupations, such as school teachers or midwifery and nursing professionals.
Both people with and without disability had similar distributions across industry groups. Some industries had a higher than average (9.3%) disability prevalence rate, particularly Agriculture, forestry and fishing (15.0%), Administrative and Support Services (12.7%) and Health care and social assistance (12.3%).
People with disability who were working were more likely to run their own business (11.6%), and/or work from home (33.7%), than employed people without disability (8.8% and 28.4% respectively). Such situations may enhance the flexibility of working arrangements, making it easier for people with disability to participate in the labour force.
Employers and disability employment service providers may need to make special arrangements to ensure that employees with disability have a suitable environment in which to work. In 2012, 10.3% of employed people with disability required some type of special work arrangement such as being provided with special equipment or being allocated different duties.
The type of disability influenced whether assistance was needed in the workplace and the kind of assistance required. Employed people with an intellectual or psychological disability were likely to require special working arrangements, with nearly one-quarter (24.7% and 20.3% respectively) receiving assistance, such as a support person to assist or train them on the job. People with a physical disability who were working were less likely to require special working arrangements, with around one in ten (11.2%) receiving special working arrangements. For this disability group, assistance provided took the form of special equipment (37.4%).
The severity of disability also influenced whether a person required any special work arrangements, with 8.5% of employed people with moderate or mild disability needing special work arrangements compared with over one-quarter (28.0%) of those with profound or severe disability.
The unemployment rates of men and women with disability were not significantly different (9.5% and 9.3% respectively).
As with the labour force participation rate, the unemployment rate varied among disability groups and the severity of a person's disability. People with sensory or speech disability had the lowest unemployment rate (7.7%). Conversely, people living with psychological or intellectual disability had the highest unemployment rates (20.4% and 20.0% respectively). People with a profound core activity limitation also had a higher unemployment rate (10.3%) than those with a mild core activity limitation (9.5%).
The amount of time unemployed people with disability had been looking for work was longer than people without disability. People with disability were significantly more likely to still be looking for a job 13 weeks or longer after they first started (65.5%) compared with those without disability (56.1%). The disability group with the highest proportion of people still looking for work for 13 weeks or longer was people with head injury, stroke or brain damage (80.5%).
Two-thirds of unemployed people with a profound or severe core activity limitation (68.5%) reported their condition was the main reason they were having difficulty finding work. More than half the unemployed people with a head injury, stroke or brain damage or psychological disability (57.7% and 57.0% respectively) also reported this as the main difficulty they experienced in their job seeking attempts.
One in seven unemployed people with disability reported they will need supports or special arrangements at work. The most commonly reported support arrangements needed for this population were being allocated different duties (5.6%) and training/retraining (4.8%).
PEOPLE NOT IN THE LABOUR FORCE
In 2012, of people aged 15-64 years with disability, 47.3% were not in the labour force, that is they were neither employed nor actively looking for work. This is significantly higher than people without disability (17.5%). Of all people with disability who were not in the labour force, more than half were women (55.0%). In comparison, over two-thirds (66.8%) of people without disability who were not in the labour force were women. Nearly half (42.7%) of people with disability who were not in the labour force were aged 55-64 years. Of people aged 55-64 years with disability and not in the labour force, one-fifth (20.2%) reported long-term illness or injury as a reason for not wanting to work, much higher than for people of the same age without disability (2.3%).
Source(s): Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, 2012
Being permanently unable to work was reported by one-third (33.6%) of those with disability who were not in the labour force as the main reason for not wanting, or not being able to work. Other main reasons for not being in the labour force were having a long-term illness or disability (16.5%) or being satisfied with their current arrangements/retired (for now) (5.8%). Of people with disability who were not in the labour force, the majority found it difficult to find a job due to their illness or disability.
People aged 15-64 years with a more severe disability, were less likely to be in the labour force, with 80.0% of those with a profound core activity limitation not participating in the labour force, compared with 35.1% of those restricted in schooling or employment.
People with a psychological disability were less likely to be in the labour force (29.1%) than people with sensory or speech impairment (56.2%).
The Australian Government, through the National Disability Agreement, provides support to people with disability who wish to enter employment (Endnote 5). Under the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020, federal, and state and territory governments are making a concerted effort to improve and increase employment services for people with disability. (Endnote 1) In addition, planned reforms to the Australian welfare support system, including the National Disability Insurance Scheme, aim to create increased opportunities for people with disability to enter and maintain employment. (Endnote 8) Increases in labour force participation may improve both financial security and personal wellbeing for people with disability.