Income

41%

of people with disability aged 15–64 have income from wages or salary, compared with 73% without disability.

44%

of people with disability aged 15–64 receive a government payment, compared with 12% without disability.

Almost half

(45%) of single-parent families where the parent has disability have a low income.

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Introduction

People with disability, and their households and families, are less likely than people without disability to have a high level of income.

Most people aged 15–64 with disability (90% or 1.8 million) have an income—and are equally likely as those without disability (90% or 12.5 million) (Figure INCOME.1).  However, for people aged 15–64 with disability, this income is more likely (43% or 780,000) than those without disability (7.9% or 990,000) to come primarily from a government payment rather than from salary or wages.

Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers

Data in this section are largely sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) 2018 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC). The SDAC is the most detailed and comprehensive source of disability prevalence in Australia.

The SDAC considers that a person has disability if they have at least 1 of a list of limitations, restrictions or impairments, which has lasted, or is likely to last, for at least 6 months and restricts everyday activities.

The limitations are grouped into 10 activities associated with daily living—self-care, mobility, communication, cognitive or emotional tasks, health care, reading or writing tasks, transport, household chores, property maintenance, and meal preparation. The SDAC also identifies 2 other life areas in which people may experience restriction or difficulty as a result of disability—schooling and employment.

The severity of disability is defined by if a person needs help, has difficulty, or uses aids or equipment with 3 core activities—self-care, mobility, and communication—and is grouped for mild, moderate, severe, and profound limitation. People who ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’ need help with 1 or more core activities are referred to in this section as ‘people with severe or profound disability’.

Figure INCOME.1: Whether people have a source of income, by age group, disability status and sex, 2018

Stacked column chart showing whether people have a source of income for people with and without disability in 10-year age groups from 15–24 to 65+ years. The reader can select to display the chart by sex. The chart shows females with disability aged 15–24 are less likely (67%) to have a source of income than those without disability (75%).


Type of income

In general, people with disability, especially those with severe or profound disability, are more likely than people without disability to receive a government pension, benefit or allowance and less likely to receive income from salary or wages. Of people aged 15 and over who have a source of income:

  • government pension or allowance is the main income for 56% (or 2.0 million) with disability, and 76% (or 702,000) with severe or profound disability, compared with 13% (or 1.9 million) without disability
  • salary or wages, including from their own incorporated business, is the main income for 24% (or 840,000) with disability, and 9.7% (or 89,600) with severe or profound disability, compared with 71% (or 10.2 million) without disability (Figure INCOME.2).

This varies by sex, age and disability status. Of those aged 15 and over who have a source of income:

  • females with disability (23% or 411,000) are less likely than males with disability (25% or 430,000) to receive wages or salary as their main source of income
  • females with severe or profound disability (78% or 394,000) are more likely than males with severe or profound disability (73% or 306,000) to receive government pension or allowance as their main source of income
  • people aged 65 and over with disability (3.9% or 66,300) are less likely to receive wages or salary as their main source of income than those aged 15–64 (42% or 774,000)
  • people aged 65 and over with disability (70% or 1.2 million) are more likely to receive government pension or allowance as their main source of income than those without disability (49% or 915,000), especially those with severe or profound disability (81% or 404,000) (Figure INCOME.2).

Figure INCOME.2: Main source of income, by disability status, age group and sex, 2018

Stacked column chart showing main source of income for people with and without disability. The reader can select to display the chart by sex, by age group, and by disability status. The chart shows females with severe or profound disability are more likely (78%) to have government pension or allowance as their main source of income than those with other disability (52%).

Of those aged 15–64 who have a source of income:

  • people aged 15–24 with disability (48% or 94,600) are more likely than those aged 25–64 (42% or 680,000) to receive wages or salary as their main source of income
  • people with severe or profound disability (69% or 295,000) are more likely than those with other disability (35% or 486,000) to receive government pension or allowance as their main source of income
  • people with disability (42% or 774,000) are less likely than those without disability (80% or 10.0 million) to receive wages or salary as their main source of income (ABS 2019).

Level of personal income

A person’s level of income is associated with independence, feelings of security and financial freedom. Looking at a person’s income level can also provide insight into potential inequality in standard of living.

Measuring income and putting it in context

One way to measure income and inequality is to look at income deciles—dividing the population into 10 equal-sized groups depending on how much income they receive.

The bottom decile is those who have the lowest income in the group (bottom 10%). The top decile is those who have the highest level of income (top 10%).

There are many ways to measure low or high income. This section uses weekly personal income.

In this section:

  • low income refers to income deciles 1 to 3 ($383 or below per week)
  • middle or mid–income refers to deciles 4 to 7 ($384 to $1,150 per week)
  • high income refers to income deciles 8 to 10 ($1,151 or more per week).

When using personal income, it is difficult to provide context for poverty because poverty is usually defined using median household income (Davidson et al. 2018). The effect of disability on household income is covered under Level of family and household income.

It is also difficult to compare personal income against minimum wage because minimum wage assumes a person is working 38 hours per week (FWO 2020). This assumption cannot be made for the whole population. It cannot therefore be suggested that someone is above or below minimum wage based solely on their personal income decile.

In general, people with disability, especially those with severe or profound disability, are more likely to have a lower level of personal income than people without disability. Of people aged 15–64:

  • 38% (or 670,000) with disability, and 51% (or 219,000) with severe or profound disability, have a low level of personal income, compared with 27% (or 3.0 million) without disability
  • 42% (or 732,000) with disability, and 44% (or 188,000) with severe or profound disability, are in the mid level of income, compared with 36% (or 4.1 million) without disability
  • 20% (or 348,000) with disability, and 5.9% (or 25,400) with severe or profound disability, have a high level of income, compared with 37% (or 4.1 million) without disability (ABS 2019).

Females aged 15–64 with disability (40% or 365,000) are more likely than their male counterparts (36% or 303,000) to have a low level of personal income. This varies by level of disability. Of those aged 15–64:

  • females with severe or profound disability (4.9% or 11,000) are less likely to have a high level of personal income than females with other disability (19% or 130,000)
  • males with severe or profound disability (7.1% or 14,700) are less likely to have a high level of income than males with other disability (31% or 195,000) (ABS 2019).

Level of personal income varies by age and sex:

  • 1 in 5 (20% or 348,000) people aged 15–64 with disability have a high level of personal income, compared with 5.9% (or 86,400) of people aged 65 and over
  • males aged 65 and over with disability (9.4% or 65,900) are more likely to have a high level of personal income than females (2.7% or 20,500)
  • young people (aged 15–24) with disability (68% or 179,000) are more likely to have a low level of personal income than those aged 25–64 (33% or 489,000) and those aged 65 and over (37% or 546,000)
  • young people (aged 15–24) with severe or profound disability (77% or 75,100) are more likely to have a low level of personal income than those aged 25–64 (44% or 146,000) (Figure INCOME.3).

Figure INCOME.3: Weekly personal income, by disability status, age group and sex, 2018

Stacked column chart showing 3 levels of personal income for people with and without disability. The reader can select to display the chart by sex, by age group, and by disability status. The chart shows females with disability are less likely (9.7%) to earn $1,150 or more per week than those without disability (25%).


Level of family and household income

Having a person with disability living in the household is associated with lower levels of household income.

Households and families

In the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) 2018 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC):

  • a household is defined as 1 or more persons, at least 1 of whom is at least 15 years of age and usually living in the same private dwelling
  • a family is defined as 2 or more people, 1 of whom is at least 15 years of age, who are related by blood, marriage (registered or de facto), adoption, step or fostering, and are usually resident in the same household. A family is formed with the presence of a couple relationship, lone parent – child relationship or other blood relationship. Some households therefore contain more than 1 family (ABS 2017a).

Households with a person with disability are likely to be in the lower range of household weekly income:

  • 38% (or 2.2 million) of households with a person with disability have a low level of household weekly income, compared with 18% (or 2.2 million) of households that do not
  • 29% (or 475,000) with a child with disability have a low level of household weekly income, compared with those without a child with disability (25% or 3.9 million)
  • 21% (or 347,000) with a child with disability have a high level household weekly income, compared with 32% (or 5.1 million) of households that do not (Figure INCOME.4).

Measuring household income

In this section, weekly equivalised income deciles for households are used when comparing household incomes. This is the total household income adjusted by applying an equivalence scale to compare income levels between households of differing size and composition (ABS 2017b).

The 'modified Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development' equivalence scale is used in this section (see ABS SDAC for more information).

Low income is based on 50% less than the national median household weekly income (AIHW 2018), which falls under Decile 3. Low income refers to income deciles 1 to 3 ($593 or below per week).

High income is based on 50% more than the national median household weekly income, which falls under Decile 8. It refers to income deciles 8 to 10 ($1,389 or more per week).

Middle or mid–income refers to deciles 4 to 7 ($594 to $1,388 per week).

Figure INCOME.4: Weekly equivalised household income, by whether the household includes a child with disability or a person with disability or a primary carer, 2018

Pie chart showing 3 levels of weekly equivalised household income for households with and without children and people with disability or primary carers. The reader can select to display the chart by whether the household includes a child with disability, a person with disability or a primary carer. The chart shows households with a person with disability are less likely (19%) to have a high equivalised household income, of $1,389 or more per week, than those without a person with disability (37%).

Families with a parent with disability are more likely to be in the lower weekly equivalised family income range:

  • 27% (or 527,000) of families with a parent with disability have a low level of family income, 50% (or 970,000) mid level and 23% (or 459,000) high level
  • 17% (or 1.4 million) of families without a parent with disability have a low level, 48% (or 4.1 million) mid level and 35% (3.0 million) high level
  • almost half (45% or 201,000) of one-parent families with a parent with disability have a low level of family income (Figure INCOME.5).

Measuring family income and putting it in context

In this section, weekly equivalised income deciles for families are used when comparing family incomes. While the definition of ‘households’ is more generalised and widely used, making it easier to draw conclusions about the population, there are benefits to comparing families. When doing so, the breakdown of relationships and composition of groups is more clearly understood.

In this section,

  • low income refers to income deciles 1 to 3 ($561 or below per week)
  • middle or mid–income refers to deciles 4 to 7 ($562 to $1,343 per week)
  • high income refers to income deciles 8 to 10 ($1,344 or more per week).

Figure INCOME.5: Weekly equivalised family income, by parent disability status and family type, 2018

Figure showing 3 levels of equivalised income for families with at least 1 parent with disability and families without a parent with disability. The figure also shows the income range of 2-parent families with 1 and both parents with disability and 1-parent families where the parent has disability. The figure shows families with a single parent with disability are more likely (45%) to have a low equivalised family income, of $561 or less per week, than 2-parent families when both parents have disability (37%).

Families with a child with disability are more likely to be in the lower range of weekly equivalised family income than those without a child with disability. Of families with 1 or more children:

  • 1 in 5 (19% or 221,000) couple families with a child with disability have a low level of family income, compared with 12% (or 906,000) of couple families without a child with disability
  • 8.7% (or 40,700) of single-parent families with a child with disability have a high level of family income, compared with 16% (or 231,000) of single-parent families without a child with disability (Figure INCOME.6).

Figure INCOME.6: Weekly equivalised family income, by family composition and child disability status, 2018

Pie chart showing 3 levels of weekly equivalised income for families with and without a child with disability. The reader can select to display the chart by family composition, including 2-parent families, 1-parent families, and all family types. The chart shows 1-parent families with a child with disability are more likely (44%) to have a low weekly equivalised family income, of $561 or less per week, than 2-parent families with a child with disability (19%).

Financial hardship

The 13th Annual Statistical Report of the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey reports on findings from waves 1 to 16. The survey includes a self-completion questionnaire, which asks whether the respondent experienced a shortage of money due to any of 7 indicators, such as not being able to pay rent or mortgage on time, or unable to heat home. A person is defined as reporting financial stress if they report 2 or more of the 7 indicators.

Analysis of the HILDA survey estimated the probability of financial stress due to a range of factors. The study found that health and disability of household members have substantial impacts on the risk of financial stress. Based on some analyses, the probability of financial stress increases with:

  • the presence of a child aged under 15 with disability (2.5%)
  • the presence of a household member aged 15 or over with poor general health (2.8%)
  • the presence of a household member aged 15 or over with poor mental health (7.3%)

However, disability of an adult member of the household does not significantly impact on the risk of financial stress (Wilkins and Lass 2018).

The HILDA Survey is a household-based longitudinal study of Australian households and individuals conducted in annual waves since 2001. All household members aged 15 years or older are invited to participate in a personal face-to-face interview. The HILDA Survey defines disability as an impairment, long-term health condition or disability that restricts everyday activities and has lasted, or is likely to last, for a period of 6 months or more.

Primary carer income

Depending on the needs of the person receiving care, an informal carer may need to reduce their working hours or may not be able to earn income from wages or salary. A primary carer’s main source of income varies with the age of the carer. Primary carers aged 65 and over are more likely (68% or 156,000) than those aged 15–64 (39% or 243,000) to receive government pension or allowance as their main source of income (Table INCOME.1).

A primary carer’s main source of income also varies by whether the carer lives with the recipient of their care:

  • 1 in 4 (40% or 191,000) primary carers aged 15–64 who live with the recipient of their care receive wages or salary as their main source of income, compared with 58% (or 86,500) of those who do not
  • almost 3 in 4 (73% or 145,000) primary carers aged 65 and over who live with the recipient of their care receive government pension or allowance as their main source of income, compared with 43% (or 12,800) of those who do not (ABS 2019).

 Informal carer

Informal carers are important to households and families with a person with disability. Primary carers are usually a family member (60% or 516,000), partner (37% or 315,000), and a small proportion are a friend or neighbour (3.5% or 30,300).

The ABS SDAC defines a carer as a person who provides any informal assistance, in terms of help or supervision, to people with disability or older people (aged 65 years and over). Assistance must be ongoing, or likely to be ongoing, for at least 6 months. In cases where there may be multiple persons providing informal assistance to a single recipient of care, the SDAC distinguishes between primary, other and unconfirmed primary carers.

For more information see ABS SDAC.

Primary carer

In the SDAC, a primary carer provides the most informal assistance to a person with disability with 1 or more core activities of mobility, self-care or communication. Primary carers only include people aged 15 and over.

Table INCOME.1. Main income source of primary carers(a) whose main recipient of care is a person with disability, by age group, 2018 (%)

Main source of income

Primary carers aged 15–64

Primary carers aged 65 and over

Wages or salary(b)

44.7

7.1

Government pension or allowance

38.9

68.4

Other sources(c)

11.5

22.8

No source of income

4.8

 

Total

100.0

100.0

(a) Aged 15 years and over living in households.

(b) Including from own incorporated business.

(c) Includes child support or maintenance, superannuation, an annuity or private pension, workers’ compensation rental property, unincorporated business or share in a partnership, dividends and/or interest and other source of income.

Notes

1. Categories that are not shown have a relative standard error greater than 50% and are considered too unreliable for general use.

2. The values reported in this table exclude people for whom main source of income was recorded as not known or not stated.

Source: ABS 2019; see also Table INCM13.

Primary carers, aged 15–64, of people with disability are less likely to have a high level of personal income than people aged 15–64 who are not carers:

  • almost 1 in 3 (27% or 145,000) primary carers have a low level of personal income, compared with 28% (or 3.6 million) of people who are not primary carers
  • half (49% or 262,000) have a mid level compared with 36% (or 4.5 million)
  • 1 in 4 (24% or 128,000) have a high level compared with 35% (or 4.4 million) (Figure INCOME.7).

Whether the carer lives with the person with disability they assist has an impact on their personal income. Primary carers aged 15–64 who live with the recipient of their care:

  • are more likely to have a low level of income (29% or 119,000) than those primary carers who do not live with the recipient of their care (21% or 25,100)
  • are less likely to have a high level of income (20% or 82,600) than those who do not (37% or 45,300) (ABS 2019).

Most (65% or 366,000) primary carers aged 15–64 report their personal income has decreased or expenses increased because of their role (Figure INCOME.7). This is more likely for primary carers who live with the recipient of their care. Seven in 10 (69% or 297,000) have lower income or higher expenses because of their caring role, compared with half (51% or 69,600) who do not live with the recipient of their care (ABS 2019).

Figure INCOME.7: Weekly personal income, by primary carer status and effect on personal income, 2018

Figure showing 3 levels of weekly personal income for people aged 15–64 who are primary carers of a person with disability and people who are not primary carers. The figure also shows the effect of caring on the personal income of primary carers. The figure shows primary carers aged 15–64 are less likely (24%) to have a high personal income, of $1,151 or more per week, than people who are not primary carers (35%).

Primary carers aged 65 and over are more likely to have a low level of income than those aged 15–64:

  • 2 in 5 (40% or 76,300) primary carers aged 65 and over have a low level of income, compared with 27% (or 145,000) of those aged 15–64
  • over half (53% or 101,000) have a mid level compared with 49% (or 262,000)
  • 1 in 14 (7.2% or 13,700) have a high level compared with 24% (or 128,000) (ABS 2019).

Primary carers aged 65 and over (46% or 92,400) are less likely to have lower income or higher expenses because of their caring role than those aged 15–64 (65% or 366,000) (ABS 2019).


Education and income

The level of income a person receives is affected by their level of education (see also Education and skills). However, people with disability who achieve high levels of education are less likely than people without disability to receive their main source of income from wages or salary.

Of people aged 15–64:

  • 60% (or 207,000) with disability who attained a bachelor’s degree or higher have wages or salary as their main source of income, dropping to 34% (or 18,700) if their disability is severe or profound
  • 85% (or 3.6 million) without disability who attained a bachelor’s degree or higher have wages or salary as their main source of income (Figure INCOME.8).

Among people with disability aged 15–64, the proportion of people who have government pension or allowance as their main source of income steadily decreases with increasing educational attainment:

  • 7 in 10 (72% or 137,000) who only completed year 9 or less (including those who never attended school) have government pension or allowance as their main source of income
  • 1 in 2 (50% or 120,000) who completed year 12
  • 1 in 5 (21% or 73,600) who attained a bachelor’s degree or higher (Figure INCOME.8).

Figure INCOME.8: Main source of income, by disability status and highest level of educational attainment, 2018

Stacked column chart showing 3 main sources of income for people aged 15–64 with and without disability with 1 of 6 levels of educational attainment. The chart shows people aged 15–64 with a bachelor’s degree or higher and disability are less likely (60%) to have wages or salary as their main income source than those without disability (85%).

This difference between people aged 15–64 with or without disability is also seen in weekly personal income level:

  • 40% (or 127,000) of people with disability who attained a bachelor’s degree or higher have high personal income, dropping to 18% (or 9,100) if their disability is severe or profound
  • 55% (or 2.0 million) of people without disability who attained a bachelor’s degree or higher have high personal income (Figure INCOME.9).

Among people with disability aged 15–64, the proportion of people who have a low level of personal income generally decreases with increasing educational attainment:

  • 3 in 5 (60% or 124,000) who only completed year 9 or less (including those who never attended school) have a low level of personal income
  • less than 1 in 2 (47% or 111,000) who completed year 12
  • 1 in 4 (26% or 82,500) who attained a bachelor’s degree or higher (Figure INCOME.9).

Figure INCOME.9: Weekly personal income, by disability status and highest level of educational attainment, 2018

Stacked column chart showing 3 levels of personal income for people aged 15–64 with and without disability with 1 of 6 levels of educational attainment. The chart shows people who did not progress beyond year 9 or below and have disability are less likely (60%) to have a low personal income, of $383 or less per week, than those without disability (68%).

Where can I find out more?

Data tables for this report.

ABS Disability, Ageing and Carers, Australia: Summary of Findings, 2018

Employment and Education and skills of people with disability.

People with disability who need help with living costs may access government payments. This includes disability-specific payments (such as Disability Support Pension) and other ‘mainstream’ payments (such as Newstart Allowance).