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Disability and chronic disease

As the EU’s population is ageing, the number of those living with disabilities or chronic health conditions is rising. For the many Europeans with a disability or chronic disease, there are many obstacles that prevent them from participating fully in everyday life, and access to the labour market remains one of the main challenges. Promoting the active inclusion and rights of persons with disabilities or chronic diseases in society is a priority for the EU agenda. 



Recent updates


Covid-19-pandemialla oli erilaisia vaikutuksia eri yhteiskuntaryhmiin. Ne riippuivat pitkälti jo olemassa olleista haittatekijöistä, ja pandemian uskottiin lisänneen laajalti eriarvoisuutta eri elämänalueilla. Tässä raportissa hyödynnetään moniulotteista eriarvoisuutta koskevan Euroopan unionin seurantakehyksen...

24 tammikuu 2023
Research report

Key messages

  • Despite recent progress, labour market participation remains a challenge for people with disabilities – a fact compounded by COVID-19. A variety of obstacles – ranging from disability-related stereotypes to a lack of a strategic vision in governance – make employment in the open labour market more difficult for people with disabilities. 
  • Responses to protect people with disabilities against job loss during the pandemic have often been limited. To ensure that they are not left behind in the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, appropriate financial resources are needed to enable disability-inclusive solutions. 
  • Labour market support measures must take account of disability and tailor policy responses to support the inclusion of people with disabilities in employment. All actors – governments, employers and NGOs representing the voices of people with disabilities – play an important role in the provision of support. 
  • More high-quality data, broken down by disability type and comparable across the EU, are necessary to ensure the effective integration of people with disabilities into the labour market. Measures to support people with disabilities must also be systematically evaluated and the results fed back into policymaking.
  • While supporting and promoting the labour market participation of people with disabilities is crucial, adequate and inclusive social protection mechanisms also need to be put in place to ensure support is available for all people with disabilities, irrespective of their employment status.

Eurofound research

Drawing on data from the European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS) and the European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS), alongside other research, Eurofound has been examining access to and quality of social services for people with disabilities and chronic diseases, specifically in relation to the impact on employment opportunities and labour market integration. The research looks at the challenges facing this group and the policy approaches that could be explored. 

Latest research examines policy developments in EU Member States aimed at supporting the inclusion of people with disabilities in the open labour market, with a particular focus on the three stages of entering into employment, staying in the job and returning to work after an absence. It explores the mechanisms and effectiveness of policy measures in place before the COVID-19 pandemic, and provides an updated analysis of early policy measures created in the wake of the pandemic. 


Other research has covered a range of topics: 

  • Long-term care workforce, mapping the working conditions and the nature of employment and role of collective bargaining in the sector, and highlighting the importance of the workforce in improving the quality of life and employment prospects of older people and people with disabilities
  • Access to care services such as early childhood education and care, healthcare and long-term care, covers the issue of access to these services for people with disabilities and also focuses on early childhood education and care for children with disabilities and special educational needs
  • How to respond to chronic health problems in the workplace, examining the prevalence of chronic disease, the impact on ability to work, the extent that workplaces are making adjustments for workers and the effect of that on job quality and sustainability of work 
  • Social and employment situation of people with disabilities, looking at changes over time in employment, education and training, participation in society, social protection and healthcare, all priority areas of the European Disability Strategy
  • Employment opportunities for economically inactive people, who find it difficult to enter or re-enter the labour market and the reasons why
  • Employment opportunities for people with chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and mental health problems
  • Active inclusion of young people with disabilities or health problems, a group facing particular difficulties in accessing employment, with an emphasis on assessing the implementation of active inclusion policy at national level

Key outputs

EU context

On 3 March 2021, the European Commission presented its Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021–2030. Building on the previous 10-year strategy, it aims to ensure that persons with disabilities can fully participate in society on an equal basis with others. While there has been progress in past decades in access to healthcare, education, employment, recreation activities and participation in political life, a lot remains to be done to remove barriers. It sets out key initiatives under three main themes: EU rights; independent living and autonomy; non-discrimination and equal opportunities. As a flagship initiative in 2022, the Commission will present a package to improve labour market outcomes of persons with disabilities.

The disability strategy contributes to the Action plan for the European Pillar of Social Rights, presented by the Commission on 4 March 2021. The Pillar, formally proclaimed by the EU institutions in November 2017, reflects a joint commitment to providing a healthy, safe and well-adapted work environment for workers in the EU. It emphasises the right to equal treatment and opportunities regarding employment, social protection, education, and access to goods and services available to the public, regardless of disability. 

The 10-year strategy provides the framework to support actions at EU and Member State level to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), adopted by the UN in 2006.


European Industrial Relations Dictionary 

Eurofound expert(s)


Daphne Ahrendt is a senior research manager in the Social Policies unit at Eurofound. Since joining Eurofound in 2013, her work has covered a broad range of social policy areas. At...

Senior research manager,
Social policies research unit
Publications results (31)

Covid-19-pandemialla oli erilaisia vaikutuksia eri yhteiskuntaryhmiin. Ne riippuivat pitkälti jo olemassa olleista haittatekijöistä, ja pandemian uskottiin lisänneen laajalti eriarvoisuutta eri elämänalueilla. Tässä raportissa hyödynnetään moniulotteista eriarvoisuutta koskevan Euroopan unionin

24 January 2023

A new European Disability Strategy was launched in 2021 with the aim of intensifying progress on ensuring the full participation of people with disabilities in society. The increase of EU policy focus on people with disabilities is timely: the COVID-19 pandemic magnified the challenges they faced in

21 March 2022

Tässä raportissa tarkastellaan vammaisten henkilöiden avoimille työmarkkinoille pääsyn tukemiseen tähtäävän politiikan kehittämistä EU:n jäsenvaltioissa. Siinä keskitytään erityisesti kolmeen vaiheeseen eli työhön pääsyyn, työpaikassa pysymiseen ja työhön palaamiseen poissaolon jälkeen. Siinä

19 April 2021

The number of workers living with chronic health conditions is rising in the EU. Such conditions affect people’s ability to work to varying degrees. While some are unable to continue working, many wish to and would be able to do so if their workplace made adaptations to accommodate their needs.

15 October 2019

People with disabilities are among the most disadvantaged groups in the EU. This policy brief examines the social situation of people of working age with disabilities, using data from the 2011 and 2016 rounds of the European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS). The brief looks at changes over this period

30 November 2018

This report looks at the extent of burnout experienced by workers in the EU, based on national research. As a starting point, the report sets out to consider whether burnout is viewed as a medical or occupational disease. It then examines the work determinants associated with burnout and looks at

10 September 2018

Employment policies tend to focus on unemployed people, but evidence indicates that many people who are economically inactive also have labour market potential. This report examines groups within the inactive population that find it difficult to enter or re-enter the labour market and explores the

31 October 2017

The ageing of European society is leading to a situation where, at current employment levels, supporting the retired population will become increasingly unaffordable. The proposed solution can be summed up simply: bring more of the working age population into work and extend everyone’s working life

23 January 2015

This report examines employment opportunities for people with chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and mental health problems in the EU28 Member States and Norway. People with a chronic disease may have a

14 November 2014

This report assesses the impact of the crisis on the subjective well-being of Europeans. In 2011, GDP per capita in 22 out of the then 27 EU Member States was below 2008 levels, and unemployment rates were higher in 25 out of the 27. These indicators demonstrate worrying trends, but the report goes

06 November 2013

Online resources results (9)

Latvia: latest working life developments Q2 2018

A new agreement on overtime pay, a warning about the power balance between employers and employees, an increase in wages and a workforce deficit are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Latvia in the second quarter of

Netherlands: Latest working life developments – Q4 2017

Employer organisations’ plans for improving working conditions and wages for disabled workers, criticism of the system calculating the pension age, and career advice for older workers are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working

Slovakia: Positive trend in number of occupational accidents

Changes in the behaviour of employers regarding occupational health and safety, as well as activities by the National Labour Inspectorate and employees’ representatives, have contributed to a decrease in the number of accidents in the workplace. A recent report provides a comprehensive overview of

Finland: Changes in legislation lead to earlier return to work after prolonged sickness absence

Legislative changes in Finland regarding sickness absence appear to have boosted the proportion of employees returning to work.

EU level: European Accessibility Act proposed by the European Commission

On 2 December, the European Commission proposed a Directive on European Accessibility, aimed at ensuring the appropriate requirements of key products and services for people with disabilities.

Spain: Impact of social dialogue among workers with disabilities

A report on the reasons for the limited integration of people with disabilities in the labour market in Spain concludes that there is no uniform approach regarding the inclusion of issues affecting disabled workers in collective agreements. The report finds that these issues are dealt with in a

Belgium: Call for better measures to help people with disabilities at work

Measures to help people with disabilities or chronic diseases to participate in the Belgian labour market need to be improved, according to a report. The study, by the University of Leuven, found that support measures are seldom used, are not known about or require a lot of extra administration.

Estonia: Incapacity to work reform

The step-by-step reform by the government of the Estonian incapacity to work policy will transform the measures that activate people with partial loss of capacity for work and support their participation in the labour market. Although triggering considerable public debate, the government is willing

Blogs results (1)
Image of woman teleworking

COVID-19 unleashed the pent-up potential for telework. Over a third of respondents to Eurofound’s online survey of Europeans in April had started teleworking because of the pandemic. Never before had so many people been working from home. For people with disabilities, telework has long been viewed

17 elokuu 2020
Upcoming publications results (1)

This report explores the implications of the right of all EU citizens to live independently. It investigates the barriers faced by people who wish to live independently, and the situation of people at risk of living in institutional settings. It maps the various measures taken by EU Member States to

October 2024


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