UCL School of Life and Medical Sciences


Are we failing people with learning disabilities?

7 November 2018

The Government’s emphasis on ‘fairness’ and fixing a ‘broken society’ has failed for hundreds of thousands of people with learning disabilities, according to a new report by UCL.


‘A Fair, Supportive Society’, published by UCL’s Institute of Health Equity (IHE), has found that two out of every five (40%) children with a learning disability remain undiagnosed and that adults with learning disabilities will die 15-20 years sooner on average than the general population – that’s 1,200 premature deaths each year.

Commenting on the findings, IHE Director, Professor Sir Michael Marmot, said: “This is a direct result of a political choice that destines this vulnerable group to experience some of the worst of what society has to offer: low incomes, no work, poor housing, social isolation and loneliness, bullying and abuse.

“A staggering 40% of people with learning difficulties aren’t even diagnosed in childhood. This is an avoidable sign of a society failing to be fair and supportive to its most vulnerable members. We need to change this. The time to act is now.”

In order to improve the life expectancy for people with disabilities, the IHE report suggests action should focus on the ‘social determinants of health’, addressing poverty, poor housing, discrimination and bullying.

Actions include:

  • Improve early years experiences and parenting support to help close relationships to be formed, reduce behavioural challenges, mental health problems and referral to high cost institutional care.
  • Reduce poverty and improve living environments to improve ability to choose healthy behaviours and be socially included. Households with children who have a disability are twice as likely to be too cold in winter (a fifth of children with learning disabilities have asthma). 
  • Increase employment programmes to increase life expectancy by improving mental and physical health, reduced poverty and associated health impacts – currently the number of people with learning disabilities in work, paid at minimum wage or higher, vary widely across regions of the UK from 0.3% to 22.1%

The IHE has also made 11 specific recommendations for the Government to consider.



UCL Institute of Health Equity (IHE)


Image credit: Pixabay 

Media contact

Colin Brook

Tel: +44 (0)20 3108 9046

Email: colin.brook [at] ucl.ac.uk