Disability statistics - poverty and income inequalities

Data from August 2015. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned update: March 2019

This article is part of a set of articles on disability and sheds light on the income situation of people with disabilities based on their own reporting of an activity limitation. Income is a key measure of the economic well-being of individuals. The data are taken from the European statistics on income and living conditions (EU-SILC), which is the reference source for statistics on income, poverty and living conditions in the European Union (EU).

In EU-SILC, disability is approximated according to the concept of global activity limitation, which is defined as a “limitation in activities people usually do because of health problems for at least the past six months”. This is considered to be an adequate proxy for disability, both by the scientific community and disabled persons' organisations.

Figure 1: The Europe-2020 indicator of at-risk-of-poverty or social exclusion (AROPE)
Source: Eurostat
Table 1: People at-risk-of-poverty, severely materially deprived, living in households with very low work intensity, and at-risk-of-poverty and social exclusion (Percentage of the eligible population), by country and level of activity limitation, 2013 - Source: Eurostat (hlth_dpe010), (hlth_dpe020), (hlth_dpe040) and (hlth_dm010)
Figure 2: At-risk-of-poverty rate (%) for the population aged 16 or more with activity limitation, before and after social transfers, by country, 2013 - Source: Eurostat (hlth_dpe020) and (hlth_dpe030)
Figure 3: Percentage of the employed population aged 16 or more who are at-risk-of-poverty, by country and level of activity limitation, 2013 - Source: Eurostat (hlth_dpe050)

Main statistical findings

Being at-risk-of-poverty or social exclusion (AROPE): higher prevalence among the population with activity limitation

The indicator "at risk of poverty or social exclusion", abbreviated as AROPE, measures the percentage of people who are either at risk of poverty, or severely materially deprived or living in a household with a very low work intensity. The AROPE is the headline indicator to monitor the Europe 2020 Strategy poverty target.

In 2013, about 30 % of the population aged 16 or more in the EU-28 and having an activity limitation was at risk of poverty or social exclusion, compared with 22 % of those with no limitation. Similar results were obtained for the at-risk-of-poverty rate (19 % vs. 15 %), severe material deprivation rate (13 % vs. 8 %) and the share of individuals aged less than 60 and living in households with very low work intensity (24 % vs. 8 %). The latter result reflects a more difficult access to the labour market for people with activity limitation.

There are significant differences across countries, yet in all of them people without activity limitation are on average less exposed to the risk of poverty and social exclusion than those with some activity limitation. Severe material deprivation is more frequent in Eastern European Member States. For instance, more than half of those with an activity limitation in Bulgaria (57 %) are also severely materially deprived, while the share is 3 % in Luxembourg and 1 % in Switzerland. With regard to the two other components of AROPE (being at-risk-of-poverty and living in a household with low work intensity), the gaps between countries are less significant. For instance, the at-risk-of-poverty rate after social transfers for people with activity limitation varies from 10 % in Iceland up to 26 % in Estonia and 29 % in Bulgaria.

The decisive importance of social transfers for people with activity limitation

People with activity limitation rely heavily on social transfers. In 2013, 68 % of the EU-28 population aged 16 or more and having some activity limitation would have been at risk of poverty if social transfers (social benefits, allowances and pensions) had not taken place. In comparison, 31 % of the population with no activity limitation would have been at-risk-of-poverty. The rate before social transfers for those with an activity limitation ranged from 51 % in Switzerland and 57 % in Iceland to 78 % in Lithuania and 82 % in Greece. The at-risk-of-poverty rate for the population with an activity limitation fell to 19 % of the EU-28 population after taking social transfers into account. Similar impacts were observed in all countries.

In-work poverty: people with activity limitation more exposed than people with no limitation

Regardless of whether an activity limitation exists or not, being in employment reduces the risk of poverty. In 2013, 9 % of the employed population aged 18 or more in the EU-28 was at-risk-of-poverty, while the share was 16 % for all persons of the same age group (see (ilc_li04)). Nevertheless, employment does not make the risk of poverty disappear. In-work poverty, that is poverty among the employed population, is a key indicator of the labour market integration of people having an activity limitation. In the EU-28, 12 % of those in employment and having an activity limitation were at-risk-of-poverty. The highest values were observed in Portugal (14 %), Greece (21 %) and Romania (22 %), and the lowest in Finland (3 %), Denmark and the Netherlands (5 %). Not having an activity limitation reduced the poverty risk to 9 %.

Data sources and availability

The EU-statistics on income and living conditions (EU-SILC) is the EU reference source for comparative statistics on income distribution and social inclusion. It provides annual data for the 28 EU countries, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland covering income, poverty, social exclusion and other aspects of living conditions.

The reference population covered in EU-SILC includes only private households and their current members residing in the territory of the countries at the time of data collection. It should be emphasized that people living in collective households and in institutions are generally excluded from the target population, which is a restriction regarding people with activity limitation. All household members are surveyed, but only those aged 16 and more are interviewed.

Data presented in this article correspond to 2013, although data for more recent years are disseminated. This is due to updates that were made after the data extractions used for the publication.


One of the specific objectives of the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020, which was adopted by the European Commission in 2010, is to ensure decent living conditions for people with disabilities through public housing programmes. This objective is also emphasized in an international human rights treaty, the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD), to which the EU is a signatory, as a pathway to ensure better accessibility (art. 9) and adequate standards of living and social protection (art. 28) for those with disabilities.

See also

Online publications

Related articles

Further Eurostat information



Disability (hlth_dsb)
Income distribution and poverty among disabled people (source SILC) (hlth_dsb_pe)
Material deprivation among disabled people (source SILC) (hlth_dsb_md)

Dedicated section


Other information

  • Regulation 1177/2003 of 16 June 2003 concerning Community statistics on income and living conditions (EU-SILC) and its updates for successive enlargements

External links