Is The Census Letting Disabled People Down?

More than ever disabled people are facing barriers to living well, so it is concerning that the census might not be capturing the true picture of disability in England, and that disabled people struggle to be heard. This blog by the King’s Fund, looks at what’s at stake:

Disabled people earn less and have higher living costs on average than those who are not disabled, so it is unsurprising that the cost-of-living crisis has had more of an impact on disabled people. 50 per cent of disabled people report that due to the rising cost of living, they are now spending less on food and other essentials, compared to 38 per cent of people who aren’t disabled. Evidence also suggests that disabled people wait longer for NHS treatment than those who aren’t disabled.

Evidence also suggests that disabled people wait longer for NHS treatment than those who aren’t disabled. These are just two examples of the struggles faced by many disabled people in England. It is therefore vitally important that we know who is disabled, and what they need. One of the ways this can be done is through the census data, but are these numbers accurate?

The 2021 census found that a smaller proportion of people were disabled in England than in 2011 – 17.7 per cent in 2021, compared to 19.3 per cent in 2011. But this contrasts with other sources that show disability rates increasing:

  • the Family Resources Survey found 24 per cent of people were disabled in the UK in 2021/22, up from 19 per cent in 2011/12
    requests for adult social care increased to 1.98 million in 2021/22
    the number of Personal Independence Payment claimants more than doubled from 1.3 million in March 2017 to 2.9 million in March 2022.

What explains these differences? One reason might be the timing of the census – it was completed in March 2021, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. This could have had an impact on people’s perceptions of their health (the proportion of people reporting very good health increased) and disability status. This was also too early for the impact of long covid on disability rates to be fully included.

Read the full blog here