Scottish Economy

Report – Scotland’s invisible people

Today, we published the first report in our latest research project – Scotland’s invisible people: Support and opportunities for adults with learning disabilities.

You can read the full report here.

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Summary of findings

The Fraser of Allander Institute is embarking on a year-long project looking at outcomes for working age people with learning disabilities in Scotland. In doing so, we will examine areas where the public sector, employers and civil society could help make their lives better. We are also seeking to highlight good examples of where people have had the support required to make their own way to lead a fulfilling life.

This is a project that deserves time and reflection. There is a lot for us to learn, a lot of services and organisations to understand, and a lot of people to engage with. This first report is just one piece of the jigsaw that we are seeking to put together over the next year.

In this report, we focus on getting some of the facts together and we also report on some of the issues that have been raised with us by people with learning disabilities, as well as some of the views of the wider public. We also take a look at the high-level ambition put forward by the Scottish Government in recent years, and how this has permeated across government economic strategies and into funding decisions.

Overall, this has been a sobering report to write. Undoubtedly, there have improvements relative to twenty years ago when long-term hospitalisation for people with learning disabilities was commonplace. But this does not mean enough progress has been made. Whilst it is clear that in pockets of government there is a good understanding of what is required and a great many charities and organisations helping to make voices heard, we have found that there is often a lack of visibility of people with learning disabilities in mainstream policy development.

This is despite the Scottish Government’s inclusive growth and wellbeing ambitions. Improving economic outcomes for people with disabilities is often talked about by policy makers, but delivery is – at best – patchy. Far too often a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution is assumed with little in the way of recognition about what this means for people with learning disabilities or the range of conditions and issues that this includes, nor is there robust data collected to help.

This is why we have titled this report ‘Scotland’s Invisible People’. Not only are they not visible in public debate, but the support they receive has receded in recent years and this has largely happened under the radar. COVID-19 has meant that much of the service infrastructure that was relied on has been taken away, and there are grave (and valid) concerns that their human rights are being curtailed.

Our survey of public attitudes also showed that many people know someone that has a learning disability and in fact, some estimates put the figure of people with learning disabilities at close to 175,000 – greater than the population of Dundee.

This is not a niche issue, and it is time people with learning disabilities received the attention they deserve. We hope this report, and our subsequent work on this will help to ensure that this happens.


Emma is Deputy Director and Senior Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the Fraser of Allander Institute

Picture of Graeme Roy, director of the Fraser of Allander Institute
Graeme Roy

Dean of External Engagement in the College of Social Sciences at Glasgow University and previously director of the Fraser of Allander Institute.

Knowledge Exchange Associate at the Fraser of Allander Institute

Murray McLean

Murray worked with the Knowledge Exchange team at the Institute in 2020, while completing his MSc in Applied Economics at the University of Strathclyde. He is interested in environmental economics and work that has a real impact. He worked a project using IO modelling and conducted research on the economic outcomes for adults with learning disabilities in Scotland, focusing on financial analysis.