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- People with disability
- Labour force participation
- People not in the labour force
- Looking ahead
- Disability groups
- Spotlight on a disability - mental illness
- Young people with a disability
- Income support
- International comparisons
- Barriers and incentives to work
- Data sources and definitions
DISABILITY RATE BY AGE(a) - 1993 - 2009
Footnote(s): (a) people aged 15-64 years and living in households.
Work, labour issues, Disability discrimination, Physical and mental health, Workplace equality, Labour force participation, Unemployment rate, Living with disability, Disability rate, Disability employment, core activity limitation, disability type
Many people with disability engage in work and make a valuable contribution to society. Employment can provide financial independence, a better standard of living and improved physical and mental health.(Endnote 1) 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 2) aims to protect people from discrimination because of their disability. Following a Productivity Commission Review (Endnote 3) 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 4)
Although there have been improvements in anti-discrimination legislation, people with disability are still less likely to be working than other Australians. The labour force participation rate for those aged 15-64 years with disability in 2009 was 54%, much lower than that for those without disability (83%). 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 5)
This article investigates the labour force characteristics of Australians aged 15-64 years with disability.
PEOPLE WITH DISABILITY
In 2009, there were 2.2 million Australians aged 15-64 years with disability, up from 1.7 million in 1993. The disability rate for Australians aged 15-64 years, those of ‘prime working age’, rose from 15% in 1993 to a peak of 17% in 2003, then returned to 15% in 2009. In 2009, just over half (51%) of people with disability were women.
The likelihood of living with disability increases with age. In 2009, the disability rate among 15-24 year olds was 6.6% and the rate was higher for successively older age groups, with 18% of 45-54 year olds, and 31% of 55-64 year olds living with disability in 2009.
LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION BY DISABILITY STATUS AND AGE(a) - 2009
Footnote(s): (a) People aged 15-64 years and living in households.
LABOUR FORCE PARTICIPATION
Labour force participation provides an indication of both the desire for and availability of paid work, and the ability to obtain and perform such work. Between 1993 and 2009, the labour force participation rate for working-age people (15-64 years) with disability was relatively stable. In 1993, the rate was 55%, and this was broadly similar in 2009 at 54%. Conversely, over the same period, the participation rate for working-age people with no disability increased from 77% in 1993 to 83% in 2009.
Over the sixteen years from 1993 to 2009, the unemployment rate for 15-64 year olds with disability decreased from 17.8% to 7.8%, in line with the similar decline in unemployment for those with no disability (from 12.0% in 1993 to 5.1% in 2009). However, the unemployment rate for people with disability continued to be significantly higher than for those without disability in 2009.
Nearly half (46%) of working-age people with disability were not in the labour force in 2009, and more than half of these (59%) were permanently unable to work. Of those people with disability who were not in the labour force, one fifth (20% or 194,000) had no employment restriction, meaning that it was not their disability which prevented them from working. Difficulties such as access to childcare (22%), were reported as limiting these people’s ability to participate in the labour force despite having no employment restrictions. For people without disability who were not in the labour force, other difficulties were reported such as a lack of vacancies or suitable hours (both 11%).
DISABILITY STATUS (A) BY LABOUR FORCE STATUS - 2009
(b) Includes those who may not have a specific limitation or restriction.
Source: ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, 2009
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.
The peak of participation for people with disability was in the 25-34 years 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%) of all the age groups. Of people of this age, with disability and not in the labour force, nearly one third (30%) reported long-term illness or injury as a reason for not wanting to work, much higher than people of the same age without disability (2%). For people aged 55-64 years with disability, their low 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 9)
There were differences in labour force participation between working-age men and women among those with disability, with women (49%) less likely to participate than men (60%). This was also true for people without disability (77% and 89% respectively), partly reflecting women’s roles in family responsibilities.(Endnote 10)
Of the five main disability groups, the most common in 2009 was physical disability, which affected nearly three quarters (71%) of working-age people with disability. This was much higher than the proportion with sensory and speech disability (21%) or psychological disability (17%). People can be affected by more than one type of disability and therefore be classified into one or more disability groups.
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 54% and an unemployment rate of 7.0%, while people whose disability was psychological had the lowest participation rate (29%), and the highest unemployment rate (19%). People with sensory or speech 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 11)
SELECTED LABOUR FORCE CHARACTERISTICS BY DISABILITY GROUP (A) - 2009
(b) Includes other disability type(s) and those who may not have a specific limitation or restriction.
Source: ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers 2009
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, almost one quarter (23%) had profound or severe disability, while nearly half (47%) had moderate or mild disability. About one third (30%) of people with disability did not have a core activity limitation, yet they may have had a school or work 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 2009, those aged 15-64 years with moderate or mild disability had a participation rate of 53%, while those with profound or severe disability had a labour force participation rate of 31%. This pattern was evident across all types of disability. For example, the participation rate of those with moderate or mild physical restriction was 51%, while those with profound or severe physical restriction had a participation rate of 28%.
To see a pattern in unemployment rates, severity and type of disability need to be looked at together. For example, the unemployment rate for people with intellectual disability was high in comparison with other disability groups, regardless of severity. Those with moderate or mild intellectual disability (20%) had a higher unemployment rate than those with moderate or mild physical disability (8.8%). This may partly reflect the unique barriers that people with intellectual 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 (46%) than those without an employment restriction (71%).
Of the 69% of people with disability who had an employment restriction, two of the most common restrictions were the type of job or the number of hours they could work (51% and 31% respectively). People with profound or severe disability were the most likely to have some kind of employment restriction (92%).
In Australia in 2009, over one million working-age people with disability (50%) were in paid employment, comprising 10% of the total Australian workforce. Men with disability (55%) were more likely to be employed than women with disability (45%).
Generally, people with disability who were employed were more likely than people without disability to work part time (38% and 31% respectively). The number of hours usually worked by people with disability was associated with the severity and type of disability they had.
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 (49%) of those with profound or severe disability who were working, worked full time.
Among the five disability groups, psychological and intellectual disabilities have greater association with fewer working hours. More than a third (35%) of people with psychological disability who worked, usually worked no more than 15 hours, followed by people with intellectual disability (30%). In contrast, about two thirds of employed people with sensory or speech disability (66%) or physical disability (61%) worked full time.
HOURS USUALLY WORKED EACH WEEK(a) BY SEVERITY OF DISABILITY
Footnote(s): (a) People aged 15-64 years and living in households. (b) Includes those who may not have a specific limitation or restriction.
Occupation and industry
Almost one fifth (19%) of working-age people with disability who were employed in 2009 worked as professionals, followed by clerical and administrative workers, and technicians and trade workers (both 15%). The distribution of people across different occupations is similar for people with and without disability. However, there was some variation of occupations according to the type of disability. For example, around one third (34%) of employed people with intellectual disability were working as labourers, such as cleaners, in 2009, while one-fifth (20%) of employed people with sensory or speech disability were in professional occupations, such as secondary school teachers.
Both people with and without disability had similar distributions across industry groups. Some industries had a higher than average (10%) disability prevalence rate, particularly Agriculture, forestry and fishing (15%) and Transport, postal and warehousing (12%). This may be partly reflective of the older age profile of people in these industries.
People with disability who were working were more likely to run their own business (13%), and/or work from home (9%), than employed people without disability (10% and 6% respectively). Such situations may enhance the flexibility of working arrangements, making it easier for people with disability to participate in the labour force.
Among working-age people with disability who were employed, the most commonly reported main source of cash income was wages or salary (77%), much higher than the next most common income sources, government pensions or allowances, and business income (both 9%).
Of people with disability who were employed, over one fifth (22%) received some form of government pension or allowance. This was nearly double that of people without disability who were employed and in receipt of a government pension or allowance (12%). People with disability who were working part time were more likely to receive a government pension or allowance (41%) than those working full time (10%). The main disability income support, The Disability Support Pension, can provide income to supplement earnings from work (see Income support box).
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 2009, 12% 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 psychological or intellectual disability were likely to require special working arrangements, with nearly one fifth (18% and 16% respectively) receiving assistance, such as a support person to assist or train them on the job. People with sensory or speech disability who were working were less likely to require special working arrangements, with one tenth (9%) receiving special working arrangements. For this disability group, assistance provided took the form of special equipment (48%).
The severity of disability also influenced whether a person required any special work arrangements, with 10% of employed people with moderate or mild disability needing special work arrangements compared with one fifth (20%) of those with profound or severe disability.
As well as being less likely to participate in the labour force, people with disability who do participate are more likely to be unemployed. The unemployment rate for 15-64 year olds with disability in 2009 was 7.8%, compared with 5.1% for people without disability. The unemployment rates of men and women with disability were not significantly different (8.2% and 7.3% respectively).
As with the labour force participation rate, the unemployment rate varied between disability groups. People with sensory or speech disability had the lowest unemployment rate (7.0%). Conversely, people living with psychological or intellectual disability had the highest unemployment rates (19% and 16% respectively).
PEOPLE NOT IN THE LABOUR FORCE
In 2009, of people aged 15-64 years with disability, 46% were not in the labour force, which is significantly higher than people with no disability (17%). Of the nearly one million people with disability who were not in the labour force, more than half were women (57%). In comparison, over two thirds (67%) of people without disability who were not in the labour force were women. Nearly half (46%) of people with disability who were not in the labour force were aged 55-64 years, and of those of this age, 67% were permanently unable to work.
Having long-term illness or disability was reported by more than half (52%) of those 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 being satisfied with their current situation (no need to work for now) (18%), or being permanently retired (9%). Of people with disability who were not in the labour force, some found it difficult to find a job due to their illness or disability (41%) or because they lacked the necessary skills or experience (8%).
The Australian Government, through the National Disability Agreement, provides support to people with disability who wish to enter employment (Endnote 4). 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 5) 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 14) Increases in labour force participation may improve both financial security and personal wellbeing for people with disability.
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