Disability statistics - barriers to employment

Data extracted in September 2014. Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database.

This article deals with the population aged 15-64 in the EU-28, Iceland, Turkey and Switzerland who reported limitations on the work they can do. Individuals may be subject to such limitations for a variety of reasons. Apart from health-related ones, those that are significant from a disability perspective are personal or environmental (family responsibilities, lack of qualifications, etc.). The analysis below looks at how these factors restrict the work an individual can do. Relevant work factors are:

  • number of hours worked
  • type of work (e.g. does it involve carrying heavy loads, working outdoors, or sitting for a long time)
  • getting to and from work.

The results presented in this article are based on two definitions of disability:

  • definition 1: people with disabilities are those who have a basic activity difficulty (such as seeing, hearing, walking, communicating);
  • definition 2: people with disabilities are those who are limited in the work they can do because of a longstanding health problem and/or a basic activity difficulty (LHPAD).

This article is part of an online publication on Disability based on data from the 2011 ad-hoc module of the EU Labour force survey. Data from this ad-hoc module refer to 2011 and updated figures are not available. It should however be noted that the socio-demographic information described in this article is structural and does not change significantly from year to year.

Figure 1: People aged 15-64 whose ability to work is limited by personal or environmental factors, by disability status, 2011 (%) - Source: Eurostat (hlth_dlm140)
Figure 2: People aged 15-64 having a limitation in work, by the reason for that limitation, 2011 (%) - Source: Eurostat (hlth_dlm140)
Table 1: Main personal or environmental reasons for limitations on work, declared by people aged between 15 and 64, 2011 (%) - Source: Eurostat (hlth_dlm140)
Figure 3: People aged 15-64 reporting a limitation, for personal or environmental reasons, on the work they can do, broken down by sex and age group, 2011 (%) - Source: Eurostat (hlth_dlm140)

Main statistical findings

More barriers to employment faced by people subject to a work limitations owing to LHPAD

In 2011, more than 1 in 3 people throughout the EU subject to a work limitation caused by a longstanding health problem or an activity difficulty (LHPAD) were also limited by other personal or environmental factors. Conversely, only 9 % of people without any LHPAD-related work limitation were subject to any other personal or environmental limitations (see Figure 1).

Among those restricted in the work they can do by both a long-term health problem and an activity difficulty, the following countries reported the largest proportions of people limited in their work by personal or environmental factors: Hungary and Romania (both 75 %), Poland (72 %), the United Kingdom (69 %) and Cyprus (56 %).

The proportion was 10 % in France and lower in Switzerland (3 %), Turkey (6 %), Latvia (7 %), Denmark and Sweden (both 8 %) and Portugal (9 %). Personal or environmental limitations on work were far less common among people not suffering from a long-term health problem or activity difficulty. The percentage varied from under 2 % in the Czech Republic, Spain, Latvia, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey to over 40 % in Cyprus (44 %) and Hungary (43 %).

The gap between those with and without a disability as regards limitations on work for personal or environmental reasons was widest in Poland (62 percentage points) and Romania (61 pp), followed by the United Kingdom (47 pp), Lithuania (36 pp), Belgium (33 pp) and Hungary (32 pp).

About 19 % of people between 15 and 64 reported a limitation in the work they can do

In 2011, about 19 % of all 15-64-year-olds in the 28 EU Member States had some limitation at work (see Figure 2), ranging from 10 % in Ireland and 11 % in Spain and the Czech Republic to around 50 % in Cyprus and Hungary. The reasons for this were:

  • personal or environmental factors only - 41 %
  • a longstanding health problem or a basic activity difficulty only - 38 %
  • both causes observed together - 21 %.

'Personal or environmental factors only' was the main reason given in 13 countries. In Cyprus and Hungary, it accounted for as many as 3 out of every 4 people limited in their work activity. 'A longstanding health problem or a basic activity difficulty only' was the main reason reported in the 18 other countries.

In Poland, 40 % of people restricted in the work they could do were subject to both sets of factors, while the figure was 36 % for Romania.

Lack of suitable job opportunities cited by 30 % across the EU

Analysing the personal or environmental factors limiting access to work, the lack of suitable job opportunities was the biggest factor in the EU, quoted by 31 % of the working-age population (see Table 1). Over half of people in Bulgaria, Estonia, Greece, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovakia cited this factor.

Over 25 % of people in Bulgaria, Austria and Finland cited a lack of qualifications or experience, while the biggest factor in Ireland (38 %) was family or other caring responsibilities. Other factors (e.g. lack of transport, inflexible employers) together accounted for over 60 % of the population in Iceland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark.

Women cite family or other caring responsibilities as the main factor limiting their ability to work

Among personal or environmental reasons restricting ability to work, 27 % of women reported 'family and other caring responsibilities' as the main factor, while only 6 % of men mentioned this (see Figure 3). In Iceland, 42 % of women cited this factor, while the figure was 56 % in Ireland (data not shown).

Conversely, over 30 % of men gave a lack of suitable job opportunities as the main reason for the limitation on working activities. This was the only reason given by the population in Latvia.

The reasons given also differ according to the interviewees' age:

  • Youngest group - 36 % cited lack of experience or qualifications
  • 25-44 – over 30 % cited a lack of appropriate job opportunities
  • 45-64 – the main reason given was other personal or environmental factors (see Figure 3).

Data sources and availability

The main data source used for this publication is the EU Labour force survey. This is a quarterly, large sample survey providing results for the population living in private households in the EU, Turkey, Iceland, and Switzerland.

In 2002 and 2011, the survey included an ad-hoc module on the employment situation of people with disabilities. This was designed to provide information on the labour-market situation of people with disabilities, compared to those without disabilities.


The right of people with disabilities to work on an equal basis with others is laid down in Article 27 of the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. This includes the right to the opportunity to gain a living by work freely chosen or accepted in a labour market and work environment that is open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities”. The following aspects are covered:

  • non-discrimination,
  • protection for rights,
  • access to education,
  • public and private-sector employment,
  • opportunities for self-employment,
  • support to enable people with disabilities to work on an equal footing with others.

In recent years, a lot of European countries have introduced new policies and legislation on the employment of people with disabilities. This is borne out by the national reports on the employment of people with disabilities in European countries. We have seen new policies and laws on the following:

  • the right to an interview (Poland, Denmark);
  • help with adapting the workplace,
  • employer incentives/subsidies,
  • rights to flexible working,
  • job matching,
  • personal assistance at work,
  • support for self-employment.

Despite these initiatives and the increased attention being given to integrating people with disabilities, a lot more remains to be done. Better information and coordination are needed.

Relatively little is known about the types of jobs held by people with disabilities and the sectors in which they are employed. This is partly due to the under-reporting of people with disabilities employed on the ordinary labour market. Such people are not always recorded as being subject to a limitation on the work they can perform or as receiving specific support.

See also

Online publications

Articles related to disability statistics

Further Eurostat information



Access to labour market for disabled people (Source LFS)(hlth_dsb_lm)

Dedicated section


Methodology / Metadata

Other information

  • Commission Regulation (EU) No 317/2010 of 16 April 2010 adopting the specifications of the 2011 ad hoc module on employment of disabled people for the labour force sample survey provided for by Council Regulation (EC) No 577/98

External links