UK Data Service series record for:
The Life Opportunities Survey (LOS), which ran from June 2009 to September 2014, is a large scale longitudinal survey of disability in Great Britain. It is the first major ONS social survey to explore disability in terms of the social barriers to participation that people experience. The survey compares the experiences of disabled people with those of nondisabled people.
GN 33425 | Life Opportunities Survey, 2009-2014
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The Life Opportunities Survey (LOS) is a large scale longitudinal survey of disability in Great Britain. It is the first major ONS social survey to explore disability in terms of the social barriers to participation that people experience. The survey compares the experiences of disabled people with those of nondisabled people and covers people aged 16 and over in private households in Great Britain.
The last major survey of disability in Great Britain was the Disability Follow-up to the 1996/97 Family Resources Survey (available at the UK Data Archive under SN 4090). Prior to that were the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys (OPCS) national surveys of disability carried out during 1985-88 (available from the Archive under GN 33214). In 2005, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) sponsored a feasibility study which recommended that a new dedicated disability survey was required.
The new survey was needed to meet the following long term information needs on experiences of disabled people living in Great Britain:
In 2007 the Office for Disability Issues (ODI) commissioned the ONS to develop this new longitudinal survey of disability.
The LOS is a longitudinal survey that ran from June 2009 to September 2014. For a list of LOS surveys, please see the list of surveys available the DATA ACCESS section of this webpage.
LOS data are available in SPSS, STATA and ASCII format
The LOS contains information on individuals. Analysis at the household level is also possible.
The LOS includes the following topics:
See the questionnaire and other documentation on the survey catalogue page. To find a survey catalogue page, follow the link from this page under DATA ACCESS or from the Discover results pages.
The LOS covers the household population in Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) who are aged 16 and over. The survey includes both disabled and non disabled people. Parents or guardians will be asked to provide some key data about children aged 11 to 15.
Yes, this is a longitudinal study designed to follow individuals over time.
Yes. There are several weights provided with the dataset. See the documentation available on the catalogue page for each survey for further information about these weights and which to use for your analyses.
Reports from the LOS can be obtained from the Office for Disability Issues website.
Specialist disability surveys were carried out in 1985-8 (DS85/8) and 1996-7 (DS96/7). These surveys used a set of questions on activity limitations and a scoring criterion to give information on the type and severity of disability by age and sex. A previous disability survey was also carried out in 1969, however, the measures of disability are not compatible with those used in the later surveys and the data is not available from the UK data archive.
The questions in the LOS also enable estimates of disability prevalence distinguishing type and severity of disability to be generated. However, these are not directly comparable with the previous disability surveys.
The LOS does include a measure of disability based upon the wording of the Disability Discrimination Act which defines someone as disabled if ‘he or she has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. This is comparable with measures in other surveys such as the DS96/7.
Defining disability is contentious. As a result there is no gold standard measure of disability and no single definitive estimate of disability prevalence. Estimates vary between surveys according to the definitions of disability that are used. Other methodological factors that can influence estimates of disability prevalence include whether not proxies are allowed, mode of data collection, population coverage (institutional population have higher levels of disability), survey context, question ordering and sifting procedure. For more details see p70-72 of Developing a methodology for the local estimation and projection of limiting long term illness and disability
The Health Survey for England included a disability module in 1995, 2000, 2001 and 2005 including measures of disability types and severity. The data on disability in 2000 and 2001 is often combined to increase sample sizes. The 2000 survey focused on disability amongst the elderly with a boosted sample of elderly people and the elderly living in residential and care homes along with a reduced sample of the general population.
From time to time the General Lifestyle Survey has included a module of questions on activities of daily living amongst the elderly included. The Scottish Household Survey includes similar measures of disability and is available at district level in Scotland. Sources such as the Census and the Labour Force Survey include measures of overall disability but do not distinguish disability type/severity.
The LOS is a valuable new source of data on disability as the last specialist disability survey was carried out over 10 years ago (DS96/7). The LOS also addresses two important weaknesses of previous disability surveys. First, it takes into account both environmental and social factors that influence experiences of disability. Information is collected on impairments, but, unlike the previous disability surveys this is not equated with disability status. The survey explores the barriers to life opportunities that people both with and without impairments face and then assesses the extent of additional disadvantage experienced by people with impairments due to the range of social barriers, discrimination or lack of support, assistance and adjustments. Second, the LOS follows a longitudinal design. This will enable researchers to monitor transitions into and out of states of disability.
Unlike other demographic quantities such as counts of population, births and deaths that have relatively uncontroversial meanings, concepts of disability are contested adding complexity to the measurement of disabled populations. There are three main models that have been developed to conceptualise disability; the ‘medical’, ‘social’ and ‘bio-psychosocial’ models.
The medical model focuses on the individual and regards disability as being caused by the impairments that prevent an individual from living a normal life. This model gives no consideration to the effects that social, environmental and individual circumstances may have on an individual’s experience of disability. The focus is on curing or caring for disabled people, with the implication that the way to overcome barriers to inclusion is to alter the individual to ‘fit’ better into society. The International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps (ICIDH) (developed by the World Health Organisation) informs the measures of disability used on surveys prior to the LOS (DS85/8 and DS96/7) and explicitly follows the medical model, defining disability as:
‘a restriction or lack of ability to perform normal activities, which has resulted from the impairment of a structure or function of the body or mind’.
During the 1980s, Sociologists began to take an increasing interest in disability largely because of the increasing number of disabled people who viewed disablement as a social process. The alternative social model was first proposed by the Union of Physically Impaired People Against Segregation in 1976 and by many academics working in the field. This model proposes that disability is a result of societal barriers, either physical or attitudinal, that prevent individuals with impairments from undertaking everyday activities.
As a result of the rise of the Social model the World Health Organisation modified the ICIDH to take into account the social and environmental contexts of people’s lives. The new International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) focuses on “components of health” rather than “consequences of impairments” including both environmental and personal factors that impact on disability. The ICF seeks to integrate the medical and social models to provide a coherent view of different perspectives of health from a biological, individual and social perspective. This integration of social and medical models is referred to as the bio-psychosocial model. The LOS measures of disability draw on other countries experiences of implementing the ICF.
The Life Opportunities Survey adheres to the social model in its design and reporting. Data is collected on impairments but unlike the previous disability surveys (DS85/8 and DS96/7) this is not equated with disability status. The survey explores the barriers to life opportunities that people both with and without impairments face and then assesses the extent of additional disadvantage experienced by people with impairments due to the range of social barriers, discrimination or lack of support, assistance and adjustments. For more information see the LOS user guide.
A limited number of other surveys also collect disability statistics using the social model. Examples of this are the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) study on attitudes towards and experiences of disability and the Scottish Executive Survey of Public Attitudes Towards Mental Wellbeing and Mental Health Problems.
Using the Life Opportunities Survey for teaching
See our teaching pages for practical information, exemplars, and tips for using UK Data Service data in teaching, including: