Media Release by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

More children with disability in school but still behind in jobs

Joint Media Release with:

  • The Hon Bill Shorten MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children's Services

New research has shown that the number of children with disability attending school has more than tripled over the last 25 years but people with disability continue to have significantly higher levels of unemployment than people without disability.

Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs , Jenny Macklin and Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children Services, Bill Shorten, today launched the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report Disability in Australia: trends in prevalence, education, employment and community living.

The report provides important insight into trends relating to people with disability over the past two decades, particularly in relation to education and employment.


  • The number of students with a disability attending school increased by 93 per cent between 1981 and 2003
  • The number of students with a severe or profound limitations rose by 260 per cent rising from 40,000 in 1981 to 150,000 in 2003
  • In 2003, almost 115,000 students with severe disability attended mainstream schools rather than special schools, up from around 26,700 students in 1981


  • In 2003 the unemployment rate for people with disability was almost 9 per cent – significantly higher than people without disability at 5 per cent
  • In 2003 there were 21,200 fewer people with disability aged 15 to 64 with a severe or profound limitation in the workforce than in 1998
  • Between 1998 and 2003, the number of people with disability in the private sector grew 18 percent, compared to four per cent in the government sector
  • Between 1988 and 2003, there was no significant increase in participation in the labour force for people with severe disability

Community living:

  • Between 1981 and 2003 there was a trend towards more people with severe disability living in the community, strongest in those aged 5 to 29

“While the increase in the number of children with disability attending school is encouraging, more has to be done to close the significant gap in employment between people with disability and people without disability,” Ms Macklin said.

“The Australian Government is working with the States and Territories to ensure adequate education and support services for children with disability,” Ms Macklin said.

“The results demonstrate the importance of the Australian Government’s National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy, which will help address the many barriers people with disability face when looking for and keeping work,” Mr Shorten said.

“The Strategy, to be released at the end of the year, will outline clear and practical steps that can be put in place to support people with disability and mental illness in the workplace.

“We also understand the urgent need to establish better data collection to help improve support services for people with disability and their family.

“Last month, Federal, State and Territory Ministers agreed to provide $6.5 million to enhance the ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC); including doubling the sample size which will significantly improve the collection of information in this important area,” Mr Shorten said.