Key points

  • Around a quarter of adults (3½ million adults) aged 45-64 report a longstanding illness or disability which limits their activity.  The proportions are similar for both men and women.
  • The proportion of people aged 45-64 reporting a limiting long-standing illness or disability is somewhat lower than a decade ago.
  • The likelihood of limiting longstanding illness or disability increases as income decreases.  For example, two-fifths of all adults aged 45-64 on below-average incomes have a limiting longstanding illness or disability, one-and-a-half times the rate for those on average incomes and three times the rate for those on high incomes.  Note that the causation between limiting longstanding illness or disability and income may well run in both directions.
  • Adults aged 45-64 in routine and manual occupational groups are much more likely to have a limiting long-standing illness or disability than those from non-manual groups.
  • The proportion of adults aged 45 to 64 who have a limiting long-standing illness in Wales, the North East and Northern Ireland is almost double that in the South East: 32% compared to 18%.

Why this indicator was originally chosen

As an overall indicator of health, the best available option is one of the general health questions which ask survey respondents to assess their own health.  Self-reported health has been shown to be a reliable predictor of mortality style independent of other measures. 1

The biggest group of people who are economically inactive but want paid work are the long-term sick and disabled 2 and the prevalence of such illness or disability is much greater among those on lower incomes than among those on higher incomes.

The chosen indicator concerns whether people consider that their range of activities is limited because of their health problems or any disabilities they have.

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows the proportion of adults aged 45 to 64 who report having a long-term illness or a disability that limits the activities they are able to carry out.  The data is shown separately for men and women.

The second graph show the same information but in terms of absolute numbers rather than proportions of the population.  ONS revised population estimates – which take account of the 2001 Census – have been used to derive the numbers from the proportions.

The third graph shows how the proportions vary by household income.  Again, the data is shown separately for men and women.  To improve its statistical reliability, the data is the average for the latest three years.  Note that the household incomes have been ‘equivalised’ (adjusted) for household size and composition.

The fourth graph shows how the proportions vary between social classes for men and women combined.  To improve its statistical reliability, the data is the average for the latest three years.

The National Statistics Socio-economic Classification (NS-SEC) has been used for all official statistics and surveys since 2001.  It replaced Social Class based on Occupation (SC, formerly Registrar General’s Social Class) and Socio-economic Groups (SEG).  ONS felt that a system of categorisation based on skill levels was outmoded and misleading given changes in the nature and structure of industry and occupations.

A person’s NS-SEC position (their ‘class’) depends upon the combination of their current or last main job and their employment status (i.e. whether an employer, self-employed, a manager, a supervisor or an employee).  A person’s job title is coded according to one of the 353 unit groups (consisting of 26,000 job titles) of the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC), and their employment status is coded according their employment relations and the size of their organisation.  These codes are transferred into eight analytical classes, which have then been collapsed into three (‘simplified’) analytical classes for the purposes of the graph.

The data source for the first four graphs is the General Lifestyle Survey (formerly called the General Household Survey) and relates to Great Britain.  The question asked was “Do you have any long-standing illness, disability or infirmity? Long-standing is anything that has troubled you over a period of time or that is likely to affect you over a period of time.  Does this illness or disability limit your activities in any way?”  Note that:

  • The survey moved from financial years to calendar years in 2005.
  • The data for 1997/98 and 1999/00 is missing because the survey was not carried out in those years.
  • The data for the fourth graph is from the ONS annual report rather than the actual dataset.

The fifth graph shows how the proportion of people aged 45 to 64 self-reporting a limiting long-standing illness varies by region.

The map shows how the proportion of people aged 16 to 59 self-reporting a limiting long-standing illness varies by small area.

The data source for the fifth graph and map is the 2001 Census (table so017 for England and Wales, S16 for Scotland and S016 for Northern Ireland).

Overall adequacy of the indicator: medium.  While the General Lifestyle Survey is a well-established government survey designed to be representative of the population as a whole, the inevitable variation in what respondents understand and interpret as ‘long-standing’ and ‘limiting activity’ diminishes the value of the indicator.

Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

None directly relevant.

The numbers

Graphs 1 and 2

Year Percent Millions
Men aged 45 to 64 Women aged 45 to 64 Men aged 45 to 64 Women aged 45 to 64
1991/92 25% 25% 1.5M 1.5M
1992/93 26% 26% 1.6M 1.6M
1993/94 28% 29% 1.7M 1.8M
1994/95 27% 27% 1.7M 1.7M
1995/96 28% 26% 1.8M 1.7M
1996/97 31% 32% 2.0M 2.1M
1998/99 28% 28% 1.8M 1.9M
2000/01 27% 27% 1.8M 1.8M
2001/02 28% 26% 1.9M 1.8M
2002/03 28% 28% 1.9M 2.0M
2003/04 24% 25% 1.7M 1.8M
2004/05 26% 24% 1.8M 1.7M
200526% 26% 1.8M 1.9M
200623% 27% 1.7M 2.0M
200725% 25% 1.8M 1.9M
200822% 23% 1.6M 1.7M

Graph 3

Income quintile Aged 45-64
Men Women
Poorest fifth 43% 45%
2nd 43% 36%
3rd 26% 29%
4th 16% 19%
richest fifth 13% 14%

Graph 4

Social class Men Women All
Managerial and professional 18% 18% 18%
Intermediate occupations 24% 23% 23%
Routine and manual occupations 31% 31% 31%
Never worked and long-term unemployed32% 47% 39%

Graph 5

East 19%
East Midlands 23%
London 24%
North East 31%
North West 29%
Northern Ireland 31%
Scotland 27%
South East 18%
South West 20%
Wales 32%
West Midlands 24%
Yorkshire and The Humber 26%
1. Health Survey for England, Department of Health, 1996, page 184.  This report also points out that the most commonly reported specific conditions among adults were related to the musculoskeletal system, followed by the heart and circulatory system, and the respiratory system.
2. From the 2003 Spring Quarter of the Labour Force Survey: around 700,000 people are economically inactive, long-term sick or disabled, and want paid work.  This is two-fifths of the total number of economically inactive people who want paid work.