Disability statistics - poverty and income inequalities

Data extracted in : January 2021

Planned article update : January 2022


In 2019, 28.4 % of the EU population with an activity limitation was at risk of poverty or social exclusion, compared with 18.4 % of those with no limitation.

In 2019, 68.0 % of the EU population with an activity limitation would have been at risk of poverty without social benefits, allowances or pensions.

The Europe-2020 indicator of at-risk-of-poverty or social exclusion (AROPE)
Source: Eurostat (ilc_pees01)

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.

Full article

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.

Table 1: The Europe 2020 indicator of at-risk-of-poverty or social exclusion AROPE by level of activity limitation, 2019
(% share of the eligible population)
Source: Eurostat (hlth_dpe010), (hlth_dpe020), (hlth_dpe040) and (hlth_dm010)

In 2019, 28.4 % of the EU-27 population aged 16 or more and having an activity limitation was at risk of poverty or social exclusion, compared with 18.4 % of those with no limitation. Similar results were obtained for the at-risk-of-poverty rate (21.1 % vs. 14.6 %), severe material deprivation rate (8.8 % vs. 4.4 %) and the share of individuals aged less than 60 and living in households with very low work intensity (22.8 % vs. 6.5 %). The latter result reflects the more difficult access to the labour market for people with activity limitation.

Disability and poverty - Visual.jpg

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, over 30 % of those with an activity limitation in Bulgaria (33.1 %) are also severely materially deprived, while the share is 3.2 % in Sweden and 1.7 % in Luxembourg. 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 11.1 % in Slovakia, up to 35.7 % in Estonia and 36.7 % in Latvia.

People with activity limitation rely heavily on social transfers

In 2019, 68.0 % of the EU-27 population aged 16 or over with an activity limitation would have been at risk of poverty if social transfers (social benefits, allowances and pensions) had not taken place, while 21.1 % of the same population would have been at risk after taking social transfers into account. Similar impacts were observed in all countries. The rate before social transfers for those with an activity limitation ranged from 55.4 % in Denmark, to 73.4 % in Hungary and 79.3 % in Greece.

Figure 2: At-risk-of-poverty rate for the population with activity limitation, before and after social transfers, 2019
(% share of the population aged 16 or more)
- Source: Eurostat (hlth_dpe020) and (hlth_dpe030)

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 2019, 9.0 % of the employed EU-27 population aged 18 or more was at-risk-of-poverty, while the share was 16.0 % 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-27, 10.6 % of those in employment with an activity limitation were at-risk-of-poverty. The highest values were observed in Portugal (15.8 %), Spain (15.9 %) and Romania (19.1 %), and the lowest in Slovakia (4.6 %), Slovenia (4.1 %) and Finland (3.5 %).

Figure 3: In work poverty, people with some and severe limitation, 2019
(% share of the employed population aged 18 or more with some and severe limitation)
- Source: Eurostat (hlth_dpe050)

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 27 EU countries, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and United Kingdom 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 emphasised 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.


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.

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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)