Adults with learning disabilities are one of the most vulnerable groups in society, experiencing health inequalities, social exclusion and stigmatisation. In general, adults with learning disabilities have greater and more complex health needs than the general population and often these needs are not identified or treated. Life expectancy of this group is shorter than the general population, athough this has increased recently.
Males are more likely than females to have both a mild learning disability and severe learning disability (1.2 males: 1 female and 1.6 males: 1 female respectively), due to some conditions associated with learning disability having a sex-linked genetic cause (Emerson et al 2001). The ratio decreases with age as women typically live longer.
Mild learning disabilities are strongly associated with parental social class and family instability, but no relationship is reported between these factors and severe learning disabilities, suggesting that deprivation may be a contributory factor for mild but not severe learning disabilities (Emerson et al 2001).
There are no official statistics reporting the number of adults in the UK with a learning disability, and establishing a precise figure is not easy due to the social construct of the condition and its wide spectrum. However estimates suggest that approximately 2% of the UK adult population have a learning disability (Emerson and Hatton 2004). The population of people with learning disabilities increased by 53% between 1960 and 1995, due to improved socio-economic conditions, improved intensive neonatal care and increasing survival rates (Cooper et al 2004).
Many people with a learning disability do not get a choice about where they live or who they live with. They are often moved far away from their family and friends, especially if they have complex needs. Many people with a learning disability want to live independently, but in most cases there are too many barriers for this to become a reality.
People with learning disabilities do not just face challenges with healthcare. Many live in poverty and are unable to secure employment. National research suggests only 15% of people with autism are in full-time employment and only 7.1% of people with a learning disability are in either part-time or full-time employment. Locally, all areas apart from Liverpool and Halton, have below the national average levels of employment for people with learning disabilities. The wide variation locally also suggests there may be different definitions of work being used and even disincentives to count people as having jobs, as they would be removed from local authority registers if this was the case.
The full JSNA report can be accessed here: Learning Disabilities