The labour market is a critical arena that shapes the economic and social well-being of any society. For individuals with learning disabilities, accessing meaningful employment opportunities can be both a challenge, and a significant milestone towards achieving inclusion and leading a fulfilling life. As highlighted by the Fraser of Allander in 2021 – whilst there is data available on the pan-disabled employment rate in Scotland, a lack of disaggregated data means there is an absence of reliable and routine labour market information about people with a learning disability in Scotland.
At the heart of effective policy is evidence. Understanding the dynamics of the labour market for people with learning disabilities is essential for evidence-based policy development. Improving employment opportunities for people with learning disabilities must be a priority for the Scottish Government (SG) if they are realistic about meeting their aim to halve the disabled employment gap by 2038. Accurate and up-to-date labour market data is crucial for understanding the current situation and being able to track employment rates for individuals with learning disabilities compared to the general population provides important insight into workforce participation.
This article aims to demystify the labour market data which does currently exist in this area, its shortcomings, including how it relates to people with learning disabilities in Scotland and discusses whether improvements are on the way.
Table 1: Employment Rates in Scotland
|Category of Individuals||Source (year)||Estimated Employment Rate (%)|
|Adults with a learning disability known to local authorities||SCLD, Learning Disability Statistics Scotland (2019)||
|People aged 16-64 with a learning disability||NRS, Scotland’s Census (2011)||
|People aged 16-64 with a severe or specific learning difficulty||ONS, Annual Population Survey (Jan-Dec 2022)||
|People aged 16-64 with a disability||ONS, Annual Population Survey (Jan-Dec 2022)||
|Overall 16-64 population||ONS, Annual Population Survey (Jan-Dec 2022)||
|People aged 16-64 without a disability||ONS, Annual Population Survey (Jan-Dec 2022)||
- Office for National Statistics (ONS) – Annual Population Survey (APS)
The ONS Annual Population Survey (APS) is deemed the official source for labour market indicators by region and smaller groups of the population. The APS combines the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and the English, Welsh, and Scottish LFS boosts to provide a larger annual sample of households in Scotland and the United Kingdom. The LFS is the main household survey that provides labour market information in the UK. This is ONS’s largest regular household survey, outside of the Census, and has been running since the 1970s. As the name suggests, the APS is a sample-based survey and APS datasets are weighted to reflect the size and composition of the general population.
Estimates for the number of people with a severe or specific learning difficulty (lasting 12 months or more) who are employed in Scotland can be obtained from the APS. Learning disabilities are included in the health problem severe and specific learning difficulty category. In 2022, it was estimated that there were 13,100 people aged 16 and over who reported having a severe or specific learning difficulty and were in employment.
We know from the Scottish Government’s Labour Market Statistics for Scotland by Disability from the ONS Annual Population Survey publication that if we focus in on those aged 16-64, over the year January to December 2022, that 25 per cent of people who self-reported as having a severe or specific learning difficulty as their main impairment type were in employment (and 75 per cent were out of work). In fact, this was the main self-reported impairment type with the lowest proportion of disabled people in work. It was followed by autism with 31.6 per cent in work and mental illness, or suffering from phobia, panics or other nervous disorders (32.2 per cent in employment).
For context these figures compare to an estimated 436,400 disabled people aged 16 to 64 in Scotland being in employment over the same period. This equates to an estimated employment rate for disabled people aged 16 to 64 of 50.7 per cent and meant that 2022 was the first time this rate had exceeded 50 per cent. This was still significantly lower than the rate for non-disabled people (82.5 per cent) and meant that over the period January to December 2022, the disability employment rate gap was 31.9 percentage points, a decrease of 5.5 percentage points since 2016. The equivalent employment rate for the overall 16-64 population was 74.4 per cent.
- Scottish Commission for People with Learning Disabilities (SCLD) – Learning Disability Statistics Scotland (LDSS)
An alternative source of employment data for adults with a learning disability which is sometimes quoted is the Learning Disability Statistics Scotland (LDSS). This data was published by the Scottish Commission for People with Learning Disabilities (SCLD) up until 2019. The latest data for that year reported there were 23,584 adults with a learning disability known to local authorities across Scotland, 956 (4.1 per cent) were in employment, 10,483 (44.4 per cent) were not in employment and 12,145 (51.5 per cent) did not have their employment status recorded. It also reported that there were 464 (2 per cent) adults with learning disabilities known to local authorities in training for employment and 799 (3.4 per cent) adults were volunteering.
This publication uses the term ‘adults with learning disabilities’ to include those adults with learning disabilities and/or on the autism spectrum who are known to local authorities in Scotland, regardless of the services they receive, and reported to the LDSS team. This means the data does not necessarily just cover the people who are using services. It also indicates there will be adults with learning disabilities not known to local authorities and possibly some who are known but not reported. These adults are not included in the reported figures.
As the Fraser of Allander have previously stated in our Data on the lives of people with learning disabilities in Scotland: Short term actions for change report, where we acknowledge the contribution of LDSS to the learning disability evidence base in Scotland and possible advantages of the data now being collected through Public Health Scotland – we would urge for responsibilities to be clarified in relation to its dissemination going forward to ensure this data is fit for purpose and continues to be published in full.
- National Records of Scotland – Scotland’s Census
Data from Scotland’s 2011 census was used in the Scottish Government’s autism and learning/intellectual disability transformation plan Towards Transformation which was published in March 2021. The publication states an estimated employment rate for people with learning/intellectual disabilities of 7 per cent in Scotland.
The 2011 census identified 21,115 people with learning disabilities in Scotland. There were 18,660 people of working age (16-64 years old) and 1,306 (7 per cent) of whom were employed. As we have covered in previous reports, there are known issues with under reporting in self-reported surveys and such figures are likely to be an underestimate. After further user testing and a change to how the relevant individual health question is asked, we are hopeful of improved response rates to the 2022 census and look forward to analysing the resulting data when it becomes available through the health, disability and unpaid care topic report next year. This will come on the back of the first set of 2022 census data published today which showed that Scotland’s population grew to 5.4 million in 2022, the largest population ever recorded by Scotland’s census. Look out for more analysis from us coming soon on the first results from Scotland’s Census 2022.
Longing for Improvement
As the top three rows of table 1 above shows, there is quite a bit of variation between the estimated employment rates presented by three different sources, all of which include people with learning disabilities. It is fair to say that each of these sources has its imperfections but continuous improvement efforts such as the changes made to the relevant question of the census and a possible reintroduction of an enhanced LDSS resource does offer some encouragement. However, it is probably the APS which carries the most potential in terms of being able to provide better labour market data for people with learning disabilities in Scotland.
Although the APS is the official source for labour market indicators by region and smaller groups of the population, it is currently not possible to obtain employment estimates for individuals who specifically have a learning disability in Scotland. Since 2020, this survey has had an option to record autism (including autism spectrum condition, Aspergers syndrome) as well as severe or specific learning difficulties. As mentioned previously, learning disabilities are included in the health problem severe and specific learning difficulty category, with no way of currently being able to distinguish between learning difficulty and learning disability specific data.
There is an additional question asked in the quarterly Labour Force Survey which asks whether an individual has a learning difficulty, a learning disability or both.
LERND – Learning difficulty or learning disability?
(1) Learning difficulty
(2) Learning disability
Unfortunately, it is not currently possible to use this variable for any analysis using the APS. In order to be present on the APS dataset, a variable has to be asked in all the surveys/waves required in the forming of the APS dataset. LERND is only asked in the main (quarterly) LFS questionnaire in quarter 2 (April to June). Therefore, due to the extremely limited way in which data is collected for this variable, it is not present within the APS and consequently does not have a suitable sample size for carrying out employment analysis for people with learning disabilities in Scotland.
As we have stated many times in our work, learning disabilities are often confused with learning difficulties, such as dyslexia or ADHD. There may well be some common elements, but there are also important differences, and the terms should be not used interchangeably. It is therefore not ideal that the employment data for Scotland available through the APS is currently based on survey responses which includes learning disabilities within a health problem severe and specific learning difficulty category.
Whilst appreciating the challenges of obtaining suitable sample sizes and acknowledging the caveat included by SG alongside their published APS data (“should be noted that the estimate of disabled people in work with main impairment severe or specific learning difficulties is based on a small sample size which may result in less precise estimates and should be used with caution”), it is important that improvement activity is considered so that employment data for people specifically with learning disabilities in Scotland can be analysed as confidently as the data currently able to be reported for people with disorders such as autism. These improvements would likely be considered in terms of the formation of the Scottish LFS boost, with one clear option being to collect the LERND data for Scotland on a more routine basis which would enable it to be part of the APS dataset and facilitate distinct analysis of data relating to people with learning disabilities.
Another perhaps, complementary route towards improved labour market data for people with learning disabilities in Scotland could be through the work ONS are currently doing on the Transformed Labour Force Survey (TLFS). The aim of which is to improve labour market statistics through survey redevelopment and increasing the use of administrative and other data sources. This work is anticipated to provide greater reliability around estimates for smaller groups in the labour market. ONS have been running a newly developed version of the LFS since March 2020 and whilst they continue to run the LFS, APS and TLFS concurrently up until the end of 2023, they aim to start incorporating transformed LFS data in regular labour market outputs from March 2024.
Many individuals with learning disabilities are capable of meaningful work and can contribute to the workforce in various sectors. The Keys To Life is the Scottish Government’s learning disability strategy, first published in 2013 it states:
“The Scottish Government is committed to helping people with learning disabilities who want to work, and it is our ambition that with the right support, they are able to find work in mainstream employment, suitable to their skills.”
The Keys To Life Implementation Framework 2019-2021 published by the Scottish Government in March 2019 highlighted a renewed focus on employment. However, the limited data which is available suggests that employment outcomes for people with learning disabilities in Scotland are poor.
As the Fraser of Allander has previously identified, there is evidence of what works when the right support is given to someone with a learning disability who is seeking employment, but replicating success at scale is a challenge. At present there is an absence of robust and relevant labour market data for people with learning disabilities in Scotland and therefore the ability to understand and track progress is somewhat limited. Making improvements to the collection and availability of such data through the likes of the APS would go a long in way in aiding an inclusive labour market for individuals with learning disabilities in Scotland, which is not just a matter of social responsibility; it’s an investment in a diverse and resilient workforce.