Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging
Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging

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Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging

5 How many people have a learning disability?

This might sound like an easy question, but there are no easy answers because the definition is very broad. It includes Shaun and Cian, who need only a little help to live a very full life, as well as people with severe or profound learning disabilities who need 24-hour care.

There have been attempts to count the number of people with a learning disability in the countries of the UK. However, it is important to note that the four nations capture this data independently and use different definitions of the population, which makes it difficult to compare figures. Some recent figures for England are given in Table 1.

Table 1 Learning disability statistics in England

 England (2015 figures)
No. of people with a learning disability1,087,100
People supported long term by social services124,000 (11% of the estimated adult learning-disabled population)
Number of people identified by GPs252,446 (23% of the estimated adult learning-disabled population)
Children with Special Educational Needs70,065
(Public Health England, 2016)

These figures, however, are unsatisfactory for a number of reasons, not all of them immediately evident. For example, the figures are not collected regularly and there is no universal system for labelling adults. Also, the figures are not broken down into the four sub-categories you looked at in Section 2.1, meaning the data is quite vague. Nevertheless, they do reveal some important points.

  1. There are a lot of people with a learning disability…
  2. …only a minority of whom are supported by social care services ­– people like Dora, Bhavin and Elinor whom you saw in Video 4.
  3. The majority of adults with a learning disability are more like Shaun, Cian, Charlene and Terry – people who get by with little or no help from social services.
  4. GPs identify more people than are supported by social services.

Many people who were labelled as having special needs at school do not continue to have the label learning disability as adults. Chris Hatton, a senior academic, argues in his blog that as money has got tighter with austerity policies since 2010, fewer people are being labelled as having a learning disability – because there are no services to support them (2019).


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