5 things research tells us about disabled people’s lives in 2021

I’m Rachael and I work in Sense’s policy, public affairs and research team. My job is to make sure that we understand how disabilities affect people’s lives through research. And that means that I’m always looking for the latest data.

Here’s 5 things we’ve learnt from research so far this year.

1. The number of disabled people in the UK is growing

To make sure we’re working for disabled people, it’s important to know just how many people are affected in the UK. The latest figures released last week in the Government Family Resources Survey show that there are now 14.1 million disabled people in the UK, which means that 1 in every 5 people are disabled.

2. Many aspects of life have changed due to the pandemic

Life has been very different for everyone in the last year or so. But research by the Office for National Statistics found that the impacts of the pandemic are especially far reaching for disabled people. About a third (32%) of people say that their health is being affected, a third (34%) say their relationships have been affected and a quarter (27%) having limited access to groceries, medication and essentials.

Sense’s Forgotten Families research last year found that community support reductions were having a big impact on disabled people and their families and these new figures show that not much has changed since then.

3. There’s still a big gap in the number of employed disabled people compared to non-disabled people

Disabled people can face many barriers in getting into and staying in work. Unfortunately, the latest research by the ONS found that only just over half of disabled people (52%) aged 16 to 64 years are in employment compared with around 8 in 10 (81%) of non-disabled people. The better news is that this gap is narrower for some groups for example, 72% of people with hearing loss are in employment, as are 57% of people with sight loss.

4. Loneliness is having a big impact on disabled people’s health

The pandemic has shown how loneliness can affect everyone. As we exit lockdown, thousands of disabled people still face loneliness and isolation every day. 

A poll of 1,000 disabled people by Sense found that 61% are always or often lonely. Even before the pandemic, 33% would be limited to having under an hour interaction with someone else each day and 70% say that social isolation is now affecting their mental health. Sense’s Left out of life campaign is all about tackling social isolation and loneliness. If you agree that no one should be left out of life, make sure you sign our pledge now.

5. Disabled people have lower health and wellbeing levels than non-disabled people

Disabled people rate themselves lower for happiness, life satisfaction and how worthwhile they think their lives are, compared to non-disabled people. Average anxiety levels were higher for disabled people. For example, 30% of disabled adults report low levels of happiness compared to 13% of non-disabled adults.

At Sense we believe that no one, no matter how complex their disabilities, should be isolated, left out, or unable to fulfil their potential. This research is just the first step. Next, we’ll use the research findings to campaign to improve lives. And you can help.

Get involved by visiting our campaigns hub, and sign up to our campaigns updates.

I’ve spent years living an isolated life, but the pandemic has increased my loneliness

A man kneeling down stroking a cat in a garden.

Ian, 42, is from Rochford, Essex, and has Usher syndrome. His work as a photographer came to a complete stop during the pandemic, leaving him more isolated.

My name is Ian, I’m a photographer from Rochford, Essex, and I have Usher syndrome. This is a progressive condition which causes deafness and gradual sight loss.

I’ve experienced loneliness throughout my life, but the pandemic has magnified my sense of isolation. I live alone with my cat, Teddy, who has been a “saviour” for me in these difficult times.  

The pandemic made me feel absolutely petrified because I’ve spent years living an isolated life, knowing what it can to you and your mental health. Loneliness affects everything – you stop functioning as a human being.

My photography work came to a complete stop due to the pandemic, which has further increased my sense of isolation. 

The only time I go out is for essential shopping. I don’t have a set routine anymore and I’m not seeing people regularly. When you’re blind, you live a very isolated lifestyle already, so being able to go out and meet other people is essential to your connection.

I believe that raising greater awareness about disability and improving accessibility will help to create a more inclusive society where disabled people feel less lonely. 

Despite all the struggles of the last year, I’m feeling hopeful about the future and looking forward to connecting with others again. I’m drawing from my past experience with isolation to get through this pandemic. I’m taking each day as it comes and looking ahead to the spring and summer for more light.

Sign our pledge and join us in taking action to make sure that no one is left out of life.

One year on since the UK’s first lockdown

Two young men sitting next to each other. One is talking whilst the other young man smiles.

This last year has been difficult for so many people around the world. The news has been dominated by coronavirus and it feels like the lockdowns have lasted a lifetime.

However, while the pandemic has raged on, there’s been moments of hope and joy. People have connected in ways that were unimaginable a year ago and we’ve supported each other to find those little moments of happiness.

At Sense, we’ve worked hard to make sure that we’re adapting the way in which we support people with complex disabilities and their families.

Friends reuniting after lockdown

There’s been numerous moments that have challenged us and, on quiet reflection, made us stronger.

After a year of lockdowns, we’d like to celebrate the reunion of two best friends, Asif and Ashton, who have formed a bubble together. Watch the video below to see them meeting again for the first time since lockdown.

Keeping connected during lockdown

Asif and Ashton’s families kept them connected during lockdown with video calls. Their familes have seen the positive impact their friendship has had on their wellbeing. Some of their family members share how happy they are that the friends have been reunited.

Lynn, Ashton’s mum, is pleased the friends can meet in person

“They’ve always been so lovely together. They’re just like two old men. We’ve tried to keep them connected during lockdown with video calls and Ashton would have his ear on my phone. Now Asif is back at Sense, Ashton is full of smiles.

The past year has been very hard. Ashton likes to be doing things. He likes to be out. We go to the park and he likes to throw the ball for the dog. He can’t walk long distances, so we’ll do a walk with the wheelchair. We take drinks and crisps, but he needs to see people.

He’s very tactile and loves hugging. There’s no social distancing with him. That’s been really hard.

We’re lucky that we had an allotment and things to amuse him here. He’s just a very friendly social lad and he does love his best friend.

I love it that Ashton and Asif are back together. I’m overjoyed and he’s just so happy. For me it’s lovely that he’s going somewhere nice and seeing his friends.”

Two young men sitting at a piano laughing.

Saima, Asif’s sister, can see how happy he is after lockdown

“For us, the past year we’ve been keeping it really basic. Asif just stayed at home most of the time. There were occasions where he did have Zoom catch ups with a few of his friends but it’s just not the same being in person.

He really misses that independence and that routine. It was a struggle. He really misses just being at Sense and that space where he can be expressive.

Now he’s back, he’s just extremely happy. We understand that he missed going to Sense and Ashton, but we didn’t appreciate to what extent.

When he first went, he came back so happy. When he attended, I remember picking him up and he was so happy to have seen Ashton. I remember seeing him just laughing. As a family, it makes us so happy to see him like this.

When we told him that he was going to get the vaccine, Asif put two and two together and he knew that he’d go back to Sense.

Asif is just a happy young guy. For the family, we’re just so grateful and indebted to Sense for keeping in contact with him.’

Sign our pledge and join us in taking action to make sure that no one is left out of life.