Measuring disability for the Equality Act 2010 harmonisation guidance

This harmonised standard is under development.

Following the Inclusive Data Taskforce recommendations, we plan to review and update the current harmonised standard. This is in line with the GSS Harmonisation Workplan.

You can find more information about this in the ‘Further information’ section of this page. If you would like to be involved with this work, please contact us at

Policy details

Metadata item Details
Publication date:25 June 2019
Owner:GSS Harmonisation Team
Who this is for:Users and producers of statistics
Type:Harmonisation standards and guidance


Harmonisation is the process of making statistics and data more comparable, consistent and coherent. Harmonised standards set out how to collect and report statistics to ensure comparability across different data collections. This produces more useful statistics and give users a greater level of understanding about this topic.

The long-lasting health conditions and illness (LLHCI) standard and the activity restriction standard are combined to determine if an individual would be identified as disabled. This is either according to the Equality Act (2010) – Great Britain or the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) – Northern Ireland.

The Act(s) define an individual as disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on their ability to do normal day-to-day activities.

This can be complemented by the impairment standard which gives more details information on where a person’s life is impacted.

The harmonised standard(s) on this topic are designed to collect basic information, for use in the majority of surveys. They are not designed to replace questions used in specialist surveys where more detailed analysis is required.


This section provides guidance on the survey questions to use when collecting information about disability. If a respondent says yes to the LLHCI question and then either yes, a little or yes, a lot to the activity restriction question then under the legal definition they are disabled.

QuestionResponse options
Do you have any physical or mental health conditions or illnesses lasting or expected to last 12 months or more?Yes
Does your condition or illness\do any of your conditions or illnesses reduce your ability to carry-out day-to-day activities?Yes, a lot
Yes, a little

A person who says yes, they have physical or mental health condition(s) or illness(es) lasting or expected to last for 12 months or more, but it doesn’t restrict their activity are non-disabled.

How should this standard be used?

What types of data collection can this standard be used for?

These questions measure the extent and duration of restrictions carrying out day-to-day activities if a person has any long-lasting health conditions or illness. They are for use in social surveys.

The standard can be used for:

  • interviewer-led questionnaires
  • computer assisted personal interviewing (CAPI)
  • computer assisted telephone interviewing (CATI)
  • paper-based and online self-completion forms

Both questions can be asked by proxy if the respondent is aged under 16 or they are unable to respond in person.

What surveys use this standard?

Each of the following surveys uses the harmonised standards to produce comparable data on individuals considered disabled according to the Equality Act or Disability Discrimination Act:

These surveys have used the core harmonised question on long-lasting health condition and illness but do not have the non-response options of prefer not to say or refusal.

This list is correct, using the latest published questionnaire, at February 2021.

Is this standard used in the Census?

This standard has been chosen for use in the 2021 Census in England and Wales.

Scotland has recommended that their proposed question will not change from the 2011 Census.

Northern Ireland has also recommended that their proposed question will not change from the 2011 Census.

This means that data from the census in Scotland and Northern Ireland will not be comparable with the Census in England and Wales. They will be comparable with each other.


This table shows output categories for disability. The coding used for these categories should comply with the coding conventions applied in the specific survey source. An example code is given in the table.

Output categories: disability

CategoryNominal Scale
DisabledNumeric 1
Not DisabledNumeric 2

The outputs are comparable with other surveys that use this standard. However, we would not recommend comparing levels of disability from this output to other levels found in publications that do not use the harmonised measure. The standard is developed to specifically measure disabled people as categorised by the legislation.

How was this standard developed?

Information about the development of these questions is available on the long-lasting health conditions and illness and the activity restriction pages.

Further information

The harmonised questions and the classifications derived from them do not systematically include the non-core population of disabled people, covered in the Equality Act 2010.

This group includes:

  • those with a progressive condition specified in the Act (HIV/AIDS, Cancer or Multiple Sclerosis) whether or not the condition has a substantial adverse effect carrying-out day-to-day activities
  • those who would be restricted without medication or treatment
  • those that have been restricted in the past but are no longer restricted

This group will be included depending on how they respond to the long-lasting health condition and illness and activity restriction questions only.

The harmonised standards exclude this group because:

  • there were problems with capturing valid data on the three specified progressive conditions found in cognitive testing and in field testing for the Life Opportunities Survey
  • adding three elements across general social surveys led to higher costs and added interview burden
  • the Family Resources Survey maintains the questions capturing these non-core elements of the Equality Act, allowing for continuity in population prevalence estimates to be maintained using these sources

Inclusive Data Taskforce and GSS Harmonisation Workplan

In October 2020, the National Statistician established the Inclusive Data Taskforce. It was designed to improve the UK’s inclusive data holdings in a broad range of areas. This includes the nine protected characteristics of the Equality Act.

In September 2021 the Taskforce recommendations were published. Some of these recommendations specifically refer to harmonisation.

In response to the recommendations, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) oversaw the publication of an Implementation Plan in January 2022. This gives information about the current and planned initiatives across the UK statistical system. It refers to a GSS Harmonisation workplan, which was published in February 2022. This workplan includes reviewing, refining, and updating harmonised standards.

The workplan sets out activities for this standard in relation to disability. This includes:

  • reviewing the topic area
  • working with stakeholders and user groups to make sure disability standards meet user needs
  • testing possible improvements and changes to the question design for the disability standards

Timescales for this work will be guided by the feedback the team gets throughout the project. We are now working to:

  • publish the first findings from our research and engagement work
  • design draft questions for updating the disability standards
  • publish updated online self-completion questions, followed by telephone mode and face-to-face mode questions – this will depend on our research and engagement findings

You can find updates on timelines and project activities in the GSS Harmonisation Workplan.

If you would like to be involved with this work, please contact us at


The list shows the coverage of the legislation and the harmonised standard.

  1. Equality Act 2010: Applies to England, Wales and Scotland only and replaces the Disability Discrimination Act
  2. Disability Discrimination Act 1995: Applies in Northern Ireland
  3. Harmonised standard: Can be used for the whole of the United Kingdom

Further links

Health Statistics Quarterly – No. 42, Summer 2009: An update to measuring chronic illness, impairment and disability in national data sources
Health Statistics Quarterly – No. 51, Autumn 2011: Update on the harmonisation of disability data collection in UK surveys (Part 1 and Part 2)

Contact us

We are always interested in hearing from users so we can develop our work. If you use or produce statistics based on this topic, contact us at


Date Changes
11 January 2021 Adding in surveys which include the harmonised standard.
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