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Which European Countries Pose the Biggest Challenges for Living and Working with a Disability?

Approximately 101 million people in the European Union live with some form of disability, making up 27 percent of the EU population over the age of 16. This equates to slightly over one in four adults. These individuals face numerous inequalities that make their lives challenging.

The EU Commission advocates for decent living standards for all persons with disabilities, which includes independent living, quality social and employment services, accessible and inclusive housing, adequate social protection, participation in lifelong learning, and a strengthened social economy.

When comparing the status of disabled people across Europe, several aspects should be considered, particularly the socioeconomic differences between people with and without disabilities. These differences are significant, and various indicators highlight the considerable disadvantages faced by disabled individuals.

What Counts as a Disability?

According to Eurostat, disability refers to limitations in performing certain activities due to health problems lasting at least six months. This can include difficulties in seeing, hearing, walking, remembering, and other basic activities.

Prevalence of Disability Across Europe

The share of people with some form of disability varies significantly in the EU, ranging from 14.6 percent in Bulgaria to 38.4 percent in Latvia in 2022. Disabilities are categorized into two groups: “some limitation” and “severe limitation.” In the EU, 19.8 percent of people aged 16 and over reported some limitation, while 7.2 percent had a severe limitation due to health problems. The share of people with severe disability ranged from 2.7 percent in Bulgaria to 10.3 percent in Estonia, with higher percentages in France, Germany, and the UK.

Why Does the Share of People with Disabilities Differ Across Europe?

These figures are based on self-reported data, influenced by respondents’ subjective perceptions as well as their social and cultural backgrounds. Despite this subjectivity, these statistics are considered relevant and reliable for analyzing the health status of populations and measuring socioeconomic disparities.

Socioeconomic Gaps Between Disabled and Non-Disabled People

One significant socioeconomic gap is the risk of poverty. In the EU, the share of people with a disability at risk of poverty ranges from 13.6 percent in Slovakia to 44.4 percent in Estonia. This risk is generally lower in the Nordic countries (except Sweden) and higher in the Baltic countries.

Disabled People Are at Higher Risk of Poverty

In all 34 European countries where data was available, people with disabilities were more likely to be at risk of poverty than those without disabilities. In the EU, 20.5 percent of the disabled population was at risk of poverty, compared to 14.5 percent among people without limitations. The smallest gaps were in Italy and Greece, while the largest were in Estonia, Lithuania, Croatia, and Latvia.

Unemployment Among Disabled People

In 2022, the average unemployment rate in the EU was 9.4 percent for people with disabilities compared to 6.1 percent for non-disabled people. The relative difference was highest in Hungary, Slovenia, and Lithuania, where the unemployment rate for disabled people was more than 2.5 times that of non-disabled people.

Employment Gaps

The employment rate is another key indicator of the socioeconomic gap between disabled and non-disabled people. In 2022, the disability employment gap in the EU was 21.4 percentage points. The gap was over 30 percentage points in nine EU countries, with Ireland, Croatia, Belgium, and Lithuania at the top. Germany and France had slightly lower gaps than the EU average.

Reasons Behind the Gaps

These gaps reflect differences in institutional factors such as the implementation of national anti-discrimination laws, welfare state regimes, and specific social assistance policies.

Impact of Social Transfers

Eurostat figures show that social transfers have a significant impact on reducing the risk of poverty. In 2022, 67.1 percent of the EU population with a disability would have been at risk of poverty, but this share dropped to 20.5 percent after accounting for social transfers.

Disability Benefits

In 2021, the average share of disability benefits within the total expenditure on social protection benefits was 6.9 percent in the EU. This share was higher in Nordic countries, with Denmark at 16.8 percent, followed by Norway, Iceland, and Luxembourg. The lowest shares were in Turkey, Malta, Cyprus, and Greece.

The nominal values of disability benefits also vary widely. In 2021, benefits per person ranged from €27 in Turkey to €3,162 in Norway, with an EU average of €644. These figures reflect the substantial resources allocated to disability benefits in Nordic countries compared to other regions.

Overall, while some countries provide more resources and support for disabled individuals, significant disparities remain across Europe. Addressing these inequalities is crucial for improving the quality of life and socioeconomic status of people with disabilities.

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