There is a lack of comprehensive data available on the exact prevalence of learning disability, and further research is desperately needed.
No data is kept nationally on the numbers of people who have a learning disability. Any figures are based on those known to social services and estimates in the general population.
Current numbers of people with a learning disability (children and adults)
- In the 2001 white paper on learning disability ‘Valuing People', the government estimated that there are roughly 1.4 million people with a learning disability in England.
- This figure comprised of approximately 1.2 million people with a mild or moderate learning disability and 210,000 with a severe or profound learning disability.
- These figures were broadly based on an assumed prevalence rate in the general population of 2%.
- For the United Kingdom as a whole the figure is generally rounded up to 1.5 million people with a learning disability.
Since then Eric Emerson and Chris Hatton of the Institute for Health Research at Lancaster University have produced revised figures (2004).
Using information from a sample of local authorities who keep learning disability registers, combined with information from the 2001 census data on the population of each local authority area, they estimate that there are:
- 224,000 people in England with a learning disability known to social services.
- This is a prevalence rate of 0.46% of the general population.
- Within this, 55,000 are aged under 20 and nearly 17,000 are aged 65 or over.
By making adjustments to the government's calculations to reflect the greater percentage of people with a learning disability in younger age groups and the lower percentage in older age groups, they estimate that:
- There are a total of 985,000 people in England with a learning disability.
- This is a prevalence rate of 2% of the general population.
- Of this, just under 190,000 are aged under 20 and nearly 127,000 are aged 65 or over.
Future numbers of adults with a learning disability
Predicted demographic changes for the general population of England will of themselves lead to an increase in the number of adults with a learning disability in England. Other factors will also contribute to an increase, including increased survival rates among young people with severe and complex disabilities, reduced mortality amongst older adults with a learning disability and the increase in proportion of younger English adults who belong to South Asian ethnic minorities communities (where prevalence rates are higher).
Taking all these factors into account, Emerson and Hatton estimate that the total number of adults with a learning disability (defined as people aged 20 and over) will increase by 8% in 2011 to 868,000, and by 14% in 2021 to 908,000 (from the 2001 figure of 800,000). Significantly, all the growth projection show much higher percentage increases in the number of adults aged over 60.
- Emerson, Eric and Hatton, Chris (2008) Estimating Future Need for Adult Social Care for People with Learning Disabilities in England, project report, Centre for Disability Reserach, Lancaster University, Lancaster.
- People with Learning Disabilities in England, Eric Emerson & Chris Hatton, May 2008.