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Severe disabilities may be restricting workers’ access to top jobs and careers

In England and Wales, the ‘higher managerial and professional’ occupation category had the lowest proportion of workers with severe disabilities in 2011

This summary illustrates how people with more severe disabilities are distributed across the socioeconomic position of occupations. Such information provides an insight into what extent disabled individuals can access jobs in the more ‘advantaged’ occupations following recent Equality legislation (Equality Act 2010).

The following analysis uses data from the 2011 Census. Respondents were asked whether their day-to-day activities were “Not Limited’, ‘Limited a Lot’ or ‘Limited a Little’ because of a health problem or disability. For the purpose of this summary, those responding ‘Limited a Lot’ were classified as severely disabled.

This information is looked at alongside occupational groupings (National Statistics Socio-economic Classification or NS-SEC), which were also derived from answers given in the Census. Groupings 1 (‘higher managerial and professional’) to 7 (‘routine’) include those who are currently working or have worked in the past six months. Groupings 14.1 (‘never worked’) and 14.2 (‘long-term unemployed’) include those who have not worked for six months or more. All figures are for men and women of working age (between 16-64).

Figure 1: Examples of jobs in Groupings 1 to 7


The more ‘disadvantaged’ the occupation, the higher the prevalence of workers with severe disabilities

An examination of the rates of ‘Limited a Lot’ from the 2011 Census show a pattern of increasing prevalence with decreasing occupational advantage. A greater proportion of workers in the least advantaged ‘routine’ occupations (Class 7) assessed their activity restrictions as ‘Limited a Lot’ than workers in the ‘higher managerial and professional’ class (Class 1), who had the smallest proportion of workers who were ‘Limited a Lot’. This was true in every English region and Wales, suggesting nationwide barriers to accessing or remaining in more advantaged occupations for people who report a severe disability because of a health problem.

Wales had the highest rates of ‘limited a lot’ across all occupational groups

Wales had the highest rates of ‘Limited a Lot’ in every single occupational class for men and women, except men in Class 14.2 (‘long-term unemployed’) where the South West had the highest.

The range between the most advantaged occupations (Class 1) and the least advantaged occupations (Class 7) in ‘Limited a Lot’ rates was also much larger in Wales (10.0 percentage points for men and 11.0 for women) than in England (7.7 percentage points for both men and women).

In England, a North-South divide was observed in the size of the range of ‘Limited a Lot’ rates between the least and most advantaged occupations, with the North East, North West and Yorkshire and The Humber all having a larger range than the East of England, South East and South West.

These findings could in part be explained by the fact that Wales and the North of England traditionally had high proportions of their populations working in heavy industries such as coal mining, resulting in residual disabling effects. Occupational hazards associated with working in these industries carry higher risks of developing health conditions and disabilities.

In addition, the closure of these industries may have led to greater economic deprivation in these areas. Previous research has found that the rates of disability among the least advantaged socio-economic classes may be affected to some extent by the deprivation they experience in their area of residence (White and Edgar 2010).

Fewer people who were ‘long-term unemployed’ had a severe disability compared with those in ‘semi-routine’ and ‘routine’ occupations

In all regions in England and Wales, a greater proportion of men and women in Class 6 (‘semi-routine’) and 7 (‘routine’) were ‘Limited a Lot’ in daily activities than those who were classified as ‘long-term unemployed’ (Class 14.2), meaning a smaller proportion of people in the ‘long-term unemployed’ group have severe disabilities than those working in the least advantaged occupations.

This suggests having a health problem or impairment which severely restricts daily activities isn’t stopping people accessing work altogether. People who are ‘Limited a Lot’ are able to access ‘routine’ jobs but there seems to be significant barriers to accessing the more advantaged occupations.

The analysis in this summary supports findings from the Life Opportunities Survey (956.2 Kb Pdf)  which found that people with disabilities experienced a wide range of barriers to employment including lack of qualifications, difficulty with transport, lack of job modifications and attitudes of employers. Under Equality Act legislation, employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to remove such barriers which restrict the participation of people with disabilities both in the labour market and progressing their careers. These figures show pronounced differences in the presence of people with disabilities in less and more advantaged occupations, part of which is likely to be a result of persisting preventable barriers to employment.

More men than women who had never worked were severely disabled

A high proportion of those people that had ‘never worked’ assessed their activity restriction as ‘Limited a Lot’. This was significantly higher for men in every English region and Wales which could in part be explained by the fact that women are more likely to be looking after the family home (ONS, 2013). The England and Wales average for men and women was 39.1 and 23.6 per cent respectively.



Life Opportunities Survey, Wave 1 Interim Report 2009/10 (956.2 Kb Pdf)

ONS (2013) ‘Women in the labour market, 2013’

White, C and Edgar, G. ‘Inequality in healthy life expectancy by social class and area type England: 2001-03, Health Statistics Quarterly, 45, 2010' (749 Kb Pdf) pp 28-56, available on the ONS website.

Background notes

  • ‘Limited a Lot’ was derived from the activity limiting health problem or disability question in the 2011 Census. The ‘Limited a Lot’ health rates in this summary are age standardised to the European standard population 2013. Age standardisation allows geographies, sexes or occupational classes with differing age structures to be compared.

  • Data is for all usual residents aged 16 and over, who work (or did work) and are classifiable into the reduced NS-SEC, in households.

  • NS-SEC Classes 1 to 7 include those who are currently working or have worked in the past 6 months. Class 14.1 (‘Never worked’) and Class 14.2 (‘Long-term unemployed) include those who have been out of work for 6 months or more. Students are excluded from the NS-SEC groupings used in this summary.

  • Regional 2011 Census date for all persons is available via the Nomis website using data table DC6304EWr (Activity limitations by NS-SEC by age by sex).


These statistics were compiled and analysed by the Health Analysis team in the Public Policy Analysis division. For further details on disability prevalence by socio-economic position of occupations at national, regional and local authority level, see this infographic and release. If you have any comments or suggestions, we’d like to hear them! Please email us at  

Categories: Health and Social Care, Health of the Population, Disability and Self-reported Health, Health Inequalities
Content from the Office for National Statistics.
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