The Importance of statistical data for disability-related policies and initiatives

One of the principal sources of information in society is found in statistical data. Providing regular and reliable statistics is a key element for developing effective evidence-based policies in any domain as well as for monitoring implementation and any progress made. The European Union and its Member States are strongly committed to promote policies and actions with the objective of improving the social and economic situation of persons with disabilities.

In this respect, key initiatives that would contribute to a full participation of persons with disabilities in society, on an equal basis with others, were set out in the Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030 adopted in March 2021 by the European Commission.

Improving availability and comparability of disability data is one of these initiatives. The aim is to have a disability breakdown in all existing statistical data collections that refer to persons and households. This will enable one to analyse the situation of people with disabilities in various aspects of life, to identify the barriers in the economic and social environment that prevent people with disabilities from exercising their capabilities, as well as from enjoying equal opportunities and full participation in all aspects of life.

For instance, many economic and social policies rely on the statistical data provided by the EU Labour Force Survey (EU LFS). The inclusion of a disability breakdown in the EU LFS from 2022 onwards will not only enable the management of progress in relation to the labour market participation of persons with disabilities, but also as regards their education and training levels or their socio-economic background.

Existing data in the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) show that the situation of persons with disabilities in domains like employment, poverty and social exclusion is consistently and substantially worse than for persons without disabilities.

When considering the headline indicator of the labour market, the employment rate, the disability employment gap (that is the difference between the employment rates of persons aged 20-64 with and without disabilities) shows a slight increase over the period 2014 to 2020 at the EU level: from 22.7 percentage points to 24.5 percentage points. The highest employment rate for both categories of persons was found in 2020, in Estonia: 65.7% for persons with disabilities and 86.3% for persons without disabilities.

When presenting disability data it is important to acknowledge the challenges that this concept poses in terms of data collections. Disability is an umbrella term for different concepts such as, impairment, activity limitation and participation restrictions. Its complexity and multidimensionality lead to many aspects having to be considered when measuring it. Therefore, identifying people with disabilities in surveys is a difficult task that requires making compromises as regards the disability definition to be used, mainly because the operationalisation of the disability concept cannot be the same in non-dedicated social surveys and in dedicated surveys where an extended set of questions can be used. The consequence is that disability is measured in different ways across the various surveys and the estimates might not always be comparable.

Lucian Agafitei, Statistical assistant, Eurostat Unit F4 – Income and living conditions; Quality of Life