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Strong links between disability and socioeconomic disadvantage

16 April, 2009

There is a strong correlation between socioeconomic status and severe disability in capital cities, according to a report released recently by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

But which causes what is unclear -whether disability contributes to economic disadvantage, or whether the reverse applies.

The report, The geography of disability and economic disadvantage in Australian capital cities, focused on people aged under 65, thereby excluding much of the disability related to ageing.

Report author, Dr Louise O'Rance, said that the figures clearly showed that disability among people aged under 65 was more common in communities where residents had fewer economic resources.

"For example, 3.1% of people living in the most disadvantaged fifth of local areas had severe disability compared to 1.3% of those who lived in the most advantaged fifth of local areas."

Some city-specific examples included:

  • Sydney, where 2.0% of residents had severe disability, ranging from 0.7% in Mosman to 4.0% in Inner Parramatta.
  • Melbourne, where 2.1% of residents had severe disability, ranging from 0.7% in Southbank-Docklands to 3.9% in Hume-Broadmeadows.
  • Brisbane, where 2.3% of residents had severe disability, including, for example, 0.6% in the Inner City compared with 5.8% in Redland-Balance.
  • Adelaide, where 2.7% of residents had severe disability, ranging from 1.1% in Adelaide Hills-Central, to 6.0% in Playford-Elizabeth.
Of all Australian capital cities, Hobart had the highest rates of severe disability among people aged 0-64 years (2.8%), while Perth, Darwin and Canberra had the lowest (1.9%).

Dr O'Rance said that the relationship between disability and economic disadvantage "works both ways".

"Socioeconomic disadvantage can contribute to disability and vice versa. People with disability often have lower average incomes than people without disability, and their disability can impose extra costs on individuals and their families.

"On the other hand, risk factors for many chronic diseases are higher among socioeconomically disadvantaged people, and people working in lower status jobs can face greater occupational hazards (such as serious workplace injury) that in turn contribute to higher rates of disability", Dr O'Rance said.

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