Over 8 in 10 (83%) disabled people compared with around 7 in 10 (71%) non-disabled people said they were “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about the effect that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic was having on their life in September 2020; for disabled people, but not for non-disabled people, this is a similar level to that reported earlier in the pandemic (86% and 84% respectively in April 2020).
Being in a local lockdown area or not did not seem to have affected the level of worry (“very worried” or “somewhat worried”) reported by disabled people in September 2020, with similar levels reported by disabled people in a local lockdown area (81%) compared with those who were not (84%).
Around 5 in 10 (50%) disabled people who were receiving medical care before the coronavirus pandemic began, indicated that they were either currently receiving treatment for only some of their conditions (29%), or that their treatment had been cancelled or not started (22%), compared with less than 3 in 10 (27%) of non-disabled people who had a physical or mental health condition or illness and were receiving care before the pandemic.
Over 4 in 10 (45%) of those disabled people who had reported receiving a reduced level of treatment or had their treatment cancelled in September 2020 reported that they felt their health had worsened in this time; in July 2020 this proportion was one-quarter (25%).
All well-being ratings of disabled people remained poorer in September 2020 compared with a similar period prior to the coronavirus pandemic; almost half (47%) of disabled people reported high anxiety (a score of 6 out of 10 or higher) in September 2020 compared with less than a third (29%) of non-disabled people.
Disabled people reported more frequently than non-disabled people in September 2020 that the coronavirus pandemic is affecting their well-being because it makes their mental health worse (41% for disabled people and 20% for non-disabled people), they are feeling lonely (45% and 32%), they spend too much time alone (40% and 29%), they feel like a burden on others (24% and 8%), or have no-one to talk to about their worries (24% and 12%).
Worries about the future is amongst the most frequently cited ways well-being has been affected for both disabled (68%) and non-disabled people (64%) in September 2020; however, disabled people were less optimistic about the future than non-disabled people, with 1 in 10 (11%) of disabled people thinking life will never return to normal compared with only 1 in 20 (5%) of non-disabled people.
A larger proportion of disabled people (83%) than non-disabled people (77%) supported “strict” or “very strict” enforcement by police of government rules aimed at combatting the coronavirus such as social distancing; disabled people were less likely to socialise within large groups than non-disabled people; only 5% of disabled people mixed with groups exceeding five (from outside their household), compared with 9% of non-disabled people.
"Our analysis from September shows that as many disabled people were worried about the impacts of the pandemic on their lives as had been the case in April.
“A particular issue for disabled people was the impact on their health among those who were not receiving the same level of medical care as they had before the pandemic. This was a different picture from the experience of non-disabled people during the coronavirus pandemic.”
David Ainslie, Principal Research Officer, Office for National StatisticsBack to table of contents
To define disability in this publication, we refer to the Government Statistical Service (GSS) harmonised “core” definition: this identifies as “disabled” a person who has a physical or mental health condition or illness that has lasted or is expected to last 12 months or more that reduces their ability to carry out day-to-day activities.
Questions consistent with GSS harmonised questions are asked of the respondents in the survey, meaning that disability status is self-reported.
Ethnographically led research
Ethnographically led research observes people in their own environment to understand their experiences, views and everyday practices. This can give in-depth insight into a particular context, group or culture.
Ethnography employs a range of research and data collection techniques, which may include observations, taking field notes, informal conversations, interviews, document analysis, surveys, filming and photography.
Higher risk conditions
Conditions that may make someone at higher risk of catching the virus or in fighting infection are self-reported by respondents and include the following:
- angina or a long-term heart problem
- a learning disability such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or Asperger's (Asperger syndrome)
- conditions affecting the brain and nerves, such as Parkinson's disease
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or a long-term lung problem
- kidney or liver disease
- a weakened immune system such as the result of conditions as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or treatment for cancer
- problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease, or if you have had your spleen removed
- being overweight (having a BMI of 40 or above) -an organ transplant
More information on people who may be at higher risk of catching the virus or in fighting infection is available.
To define an impairment in this publication, we refer to the GSS harmonised definition: this identifies impairments as activities a person cannot perform or has difficulty performing because of their health condition or illnesses.
The GSS harmonised questions are asked of the respondent in the survey, meaning that impairment status is self-reported.
Participants are asked if any of their reported illnesses or conditions affect them in the following areas:
- vision (for example, blindness or partial sight)
- hearing (for example, deafness or partial hearing)
- mobility (for example, walking short distances or climbing stairs)
- dexterity (for example, lifting or carrying objects, using a keyboard)
- learning or understanding or concentrating
- mental health
- stamina or breathing or fatigue
- socially or behaviourally (for example, associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which includes Asperger’s, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD))
Participants can select all impairments that apply. If a participant has multiple impairments, they are represented in each of those impairment categories in this analysis; this may dilute the differences found between impairment types within the analysis undertaken. Age is associated with an increasing prevalence of some impairment types (for example, mobility or hearing). Future analysis could seek to examine controlling for these potential influences.
Breakdowns provided in the article, and datasets by impairment type only include participants who have reported both being disabled and having an impairment.
Living in a local lockdown area or not is self-reported by survey participants who are asked “Do you live in an area that is under local lockdown restrictions or not?”
Personal well-being measures ask people to evaluate, on a scale of 0 to 10, how satisfied they are with their life overall, whether they feel the things they do in life are worthwhile, and happiness and anxiety yesterday.
Any changes or differences mentioned in this bulletin are statistically significant unless stated otherwise. The statistical significance of differences noted within the release are determined based on non-overlapping confidence intervals. In some cases, a significance test was also carried out, as shown in the footnotes.Back to table of contents
The Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) is a monthly omnibus survey. In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we adapted the OPN to become a weekly survey used to collect data on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on day-to-day life in Great Britain.
To enable more detailed analysis, such as the impairments breakdowns included in this bulletin, two waves of this weekly OPN data have been pooled together and reweighted to create a larger dataset. By pooling data, we improve the sample size available to create smaller breakdowns of individual questions at the expense of having to report on a wider time period (two weeks rather than one week). A selection of indicators is based on data from 30 September to 4 October 2020 only, as certain questions are only available for one wave of data. Where data from one wave are used, this is indicated in the article and dataset.
The pooled dataset contains 3,160 individual responses, representing an overall response rate of 72% for the waves of the survey conducted from 24 to 27 September, and 30 September to 4 October 2020. The dataset used for indicators based on data from 30 September to 4 October 2020 has 1,573 individual responses, which represent a response rate of 72%. Survey responses were collected using an online self-completion questionnaire, with the option to take part over the phone.
Survey weights were applied to make estimates representative of the population. Weights were first adjusted for non-response and attrition. Subsequently, the weights were calibrated to satisfy population distributions considering the following factors: sex by age, region, tenure, highest qualification and employment status. For age, sex and region, population totals based on projections of mid-year population estimates for September 2020 were used. The resulting weighted sample is therefore representative of the Great Britain adult population by a number of socio-demographic factors and geography.
Some survey questions asked for people's responses in reference to “the past seven days”. These results have been presented representing people's views during the period 24 September to 4 October 2020, even though attitudes may have changed slightly between the two waves included.
Disability Unit and Policy Lab qualitative data
The Cabinet Office Disability Unit works across the government and with disabled people with the aim of breaking down the barriers faced by disabled people in the UK. The Disability Unit forms part of the Cabinet Office Equalities Hub, together with the Government Equalities Office and Race Disparity Unit.
The government has committed to publishing a National Strategy for Disabled People. The Disability Unit will publish the strategy taking into account the impacts of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on disabled people. The strategy will focus on the issues that disabled people say affect them the most in all aspects and phases of life, including employment, housing, education and transport.
Policy Lab is an established innovation function for policy-making, operating as a service for commissioners in government departments. The team has six years’ experience of testing, learning and demonstrating how policy innovation works, partnering with policymakers right across the UK Civil Service and internationally, through policy projects, training and knowledge-building activities. Policy Lab is multidisciplinary, drawing on expertise from social research, ethnography, design, data and futures, alongside policy expertise.
Policy Lab worked with the Cabinet Office Disability Unit from 2019 to 2020 to understand the lived experiences of disabled people through an ethnographically led film research project, working with 12 participants.
The Disability Unit and Policy Lab have undertaken further work to build understanding about the impact of the coronavirus on the lives of disabled people. Research has been conducted over a three-month period (between July and September 2020) during which insights about people’s daily experiences were gathered, focusing on what has changed in light of the coronavirus. The Disability Unit and Policy Lab are working with nine people, many of whom participated in the initial project.
The research uses a range of qualitative methods including digital and ethnographically led approaches. This involves spending time with participants on a weekly basis, allowing researchers to discuss and observe the impact of the coronavirus on disabled people and their families. The researchers are also exploring people’s experiences of interacting in communities and with wider government services. All quotes in this article are anonymised.
This means that ethnographically led insights from the Disability Unit and Policy Lab are indicative, and as such are used to illustrate the Office for National Statistics (ONS) data rather than being presented as substantive findings.Back to table of contents
The main strengths of the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) include:
- it allows for timely production of data and statistics that can respond quickly to changing needs
- it meets data needs: the questionnaire is developed with customer consultation, and design expertise is applied in the development stages
- robust methods are adopted for the survey’s sampling and weighting strategies to limit the impact of bias
- quality assurance procedures are undertaken throughout the analysis stages to minimise the risk of error
The main limitations of the OPN include:
- the sample size, at the timepoint considered in this article, was relatively small: 2,200 individuals per week with fewer completed interviews, meaning that detailed analyses for subnational geographies and other sub-groups are not possible
- comparisons between periods and groups must be done with caution as estimates are provided from a sample survey; as such, confidence intervals are included in the datasets to present the sampling variability, which should be taken into account when assessing differences between periods, as true differences may not exist
More quality and methodology information on strengths, limitations, appropriate uses, and how the data were created is available in Coronavirus and the social impacts on Great Britain and the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey QMI.
The main strengths and limitations of the Policy Lab and Disability Unit qualitative data include:
- ethnographically led research approaches allow researchers to explore someone’s whole experience in a rich, empathic and sensitive manner, in order to build a picture of their lives as holistically as possible
- ethnographically led research uses small sample sizes, meaning insights should be alongside other data; the work is not designed to be representative, but rather to give detailed insights about people’s lived experience
- to adapt to the coronavirus (COVID-19), Policy Lab is undertaking research using video conferencing and digital messaging services; some people with the highest needs are unable to access these platforms, therefore Policy Lab is exploring research strategies that enable them to undertake distanced research with the most vulnerable groups, for example by phone
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