Facts and figures about issues around sight loss

We have a number of important statistics for your use from a variety of referenced sources, including figures regarding employment, housing and day to day living.

Key statistics

"There are almost two million people in the UK living with sight loss. This figure includes around 360,000 people registered as blind or partially sighted in the UK, who have severe and irreversible sight loss.” (Access Economics, 2009)

"Over 50% of sight loss can be avoided." (Access Economics, 2009)

"There are almost 25,000 blind and partially sighted children in Britain. That is equal to 2 in 1,000 children. As many as half of these children may have other disabilities." (Morris and Smith, Educational Provision, 2008)

"The number of people in the UK with sight loss is set to increase dramatically. It is predicted that by 2050 the number of people with sight loss in the UK will double to nearly four million" (Access Economics, 2009)

"Sight loss affects people of all ages. Sight loss affects people of all ages but especially older people: 1 in 5 people aged 75 and 1 in 2 aged 90 and over are living with sight loss." (Access Economics, 2009)

"Two-thirds of registered blind and partially sighted people of working age are not in paid employment." (Douglas et al, Network 1000, 2006)

"Nearly half of blind and partially sighted people feel ‘moderately’ or ‘completely’ cut off from people and things around them." (Pey, Nzegwu and Dooley, 2006)

Who does sight loss affect in the UK?

How many people in the UK are registered as blind or partially sighted?

"Around 360,000 people are registered blind or partially sighted in the UK."

  • 299,000 in England (NHSIC, 2011)
  • 34,500 in Scotland (Scottish Government, 2010)
  • 16,000 in Wales (Welsh Assembly Government, 2010)
  • 8,000 in Northern Ireland (RNIB estimate)

Half of those on the register are blind, and half are partially sighted.

Age and sight loss

"Sight loss affects people of all ages. As we get older we are increasingly likely to experience sight loss." (Access Economics, 2009) In the UK:

  • 1 in 5 people aged 75 and over are living with sight loss
  • 1 in 2 people aged 90 and over are living with sight loss
  • 63 per cent of people with sight loss are female, 37 per cent are male.

How many children are living with sight loss?

"There are an estimated 25,000 blind and partially sighted children in Britain (2 in 1,000 children). As many as half of these children may have other disabilities." (Morris and Smith, 2008)

How many people with learning disabilities are living with sight loss in the UK?

"An estimated 96,500 adults with learning disabilities are blind or partially sighted." (Emerson and Robertson, 2011)

  • There are estimated to be over one million adults aged 20+ in the UK with a learning disability.
  • People with learning disabilities are 10 times more likely to have serious sight problems than other people. People with severe or profound learning disabilities are most likely to have sight problems.
  • People with learning disabilities may not know they have a sight problem and may not be able to tell people. Many people who know a person with a learning disability think that they can see perfectly well.
  • 6 in 10 people with learning disabilities need glasses and often need support to get used to them.
  • People with learning disabilities need to have a sight test every two years, sometimes more often. Regular sight tests and wearing glasses helps people stay healthy and get the most from life.

How are people from black and minority ethnic communities affected by sight loss?

"People from black and minority ethnic communities are at greater risk of some of the leading causes of sight loss." (Access Economics, 2009)

  • The black population aged under sixty has a greater risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) compared to the white population of the same age, whereas the white population has a greater risk of developing AMD in the later years of life.
  • Overall Asian people are at lower risk than white people of developing AMD.
  • Asian people have a greater risk of developing cataracts compared to the black population and white population.
  • Black and Asian populations have a greater risk of developing diabetic eye disease compared to the white population.
  • The risk of glaucoma is much higher for the black population compared to the white population.
  • The white population has the greater risk in developing refractive error compared to the black population.

Estimates of future sight loss

"The number of people in the UK with sight loss is set to increase dramatically. It is predicted that by 2050 the number of people with sight loss in the UK will double to nearly four million." (Access Economics, 2009)

It is predicted that by 2020 the number of people with sight loss will rise to over 2,250,000.

The prevalence of sight loss increases with age, and the UK population is ageing. In addition there is a growing incidence in key underlying causes of sight loss such as obesity and diabetes. This means, that without action, the number of people with sight problems in the UK is likely to increase dramatically over the next 25 years.

Cost of eye health and sight loss

How much the NHS spends on eye health

"Healthcare expenditure linked to eye health was at least £2.3 billion in 2009/10".

This includes costs associated with inpatient treatments and outpatient attendances, and also the cost of NHS funded eye tests.

  • £1.93 billion in England (DoH, 2011)
  • £201 million in Scotland (ISD, 2010)
  • £113 million in Wales (Welsh Assembly Government, 2011)
  • £48 million in Northern Ireland (RNIB, 2011a)

This is an underestimate because the figures do not take into account any costs associated with research and development or any overheads, such as management or building costs.

Direct healthcare costs are not related to the almost two million people living with sight loss, as they include the costs of all eye tests in the UK and all outpatient appointments in eye clinics. 

The cost of indirect support for people with sight loss

"The indirect cost of sight loss on the UK economy was £4.6 billion in 2008." (Access Economics, 2009).

This includes:

  • £2 billion linked to the cost of providing informal care to someone with sight loss
  • £1.6 billion linked to the lower employment rates
  • £305 million linked to the provision of residential care and community care services.

Indirect costs are related to the almost two million people living with sight loss.

Stopping people from losing their sight unnecessarily

What are the main causes of sight loss in adults?

"The five leading causes of sight loss in the UK are refractive error, age-related macular degeneration, cataract, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy." (Access Economics, 2009)

  • 16.7 per cent of people with sight loss have age-related macular degeneration
  • 13.7 per cent have cataract
  • 5.3 per cent have glaucoma
  • 3.5 per cent have diabetic retinopathy
  • 53.5 per cent have sight loss equivalent to partial sight or blindness due to refractive error. (Uncorrected refractive error is a correctable form of sight loss.)
  • 7.4 per cent have other eye diseases.

Note that these are not the main causes of sight loss in children.

Over 50% of sight loss can be avoided.

This statement is based on the number of people whose sight could be improved by wearing correctly prescribed glasses or having the right treatment at the right time.

What are the main causes of blindness in adults?

"It is estimated that 218,000 people had severe sight loss (blindness) in the UK in 2008." (Access Economics, 2009)

The leading causes of severe sight loss are:

  • 50.5 per cent of people were blind due to AMD
  • 12.5 per cent due to cataract
  • 16.6 per cent due to glaucoma
  • 8.7 per cent due to diabetic retinopathy
  • 2.1 per cent due to refractive error
  • 9.7 per cent due to other eye diseases.

What are the main causes of sight loss in children?

The causes of visual impairment in children in the UK are numerous, complex and often part of a wider picture of childhood disability (Bodeau-Livinec et al, 2007).

The three most common causes of severe visual impairment and blindness in children are cerebral visual impairment, disorders of the optic nerve, and disorders of the retina (Rahi and Cable, 2003).

How eye tests can prevent sight loss

"Even if your vision seems OK, an eye test can detect problems you don't know you have – and save your sight. RNIB recommends an eye test at least once every two years."

Many older people are needlessly living with sight loss. Almost two thirds of sight loss in older people is caused by refractive error and cataract. Both conditions can be diagnosed by a simple eye test. In most cases the person's sight could be improved by prescribing correct glasses or cataract surgery.

Supporting independent living

Practical and emotional support

"Only 8 per cent of registered blind and partially sighted people were offered formal counselling by the eye clinic, either at the time of diagnosis or later." (Douglas et al, 2008)

"20 per cent of people say they do not recall receiving any visit from social services in the year after they registered as blind or partially sighted." (Douglas et al, 2008)

Social exclusion

"Nearly half of blind and partially sighted people feel ‘moderately’ or ‘completely’ cut off from people and things around them." (Pey, Nzegwu and Dooley, 2006)

"In the year after registration, less than a quarter (23 per cent) of people who lost their sight say they were offered mobility training to help them get around independently." (Douglas et al, 2008)

"15 per cent of registered blind and partially sighted people say that they do not do any leisure activities outside of their home." (Douglas et al, 2006)

Well being

"Older people with sight loss are almost three times more likely to experience depression than people with good vision." (Evans, Fletcher and Wormald, 2007)

Education

Number of children

"There are an estimated 25,000 blind and partially sighted children and young people aged 0-16 years in Britain." (Morris and Smith, 2008)

Specialist or mainstream education

"Approximately 70 per cent of blind and partially sighted children are educated in mainstream settings, with the remainder being in special schools." (Morris and Smith, 2008)

  • An estimated 4 per cent are educated in special schools designated for blind and partially sighted pupils.

Employment

Employment status

"66 per cent of registered blind and partially sighted people of working age are not in employment" (Douglas et al, 2006).  

Factors affecting employment

"Age, additional disability or health problems, severity of sight loss, educational level and ethnicity are all factors that influence the employment status of blind and partially sighted people" (Douglas et al, 2009)

Job retention

"27 per cent of the registered blind and partially sighted people report that the main reason for leaving their last job was the onset of sight loss or deterioration of their sight" (Douglas et al, 2009)

Employers' attitudes

"9 out of 10 employers rate blind and partially sighted people as either 'difficult' or 'impossible' to employ" (DWP, 2004)

Creating an inclusive society

Travel

"43 per cent of registered blind and partially sighted people say they would like to leave their home more often." (Douglas et al, 2006)

Shopping and money

"In a survey with RNIB Members, 95 per cent of respondents reported experiencing difficulty reading labels when shopping." (RNIB, 2010).

"Only one in ten blind and partially sighted people report using a cash machine on their own, without the assistance of others." (Edwards, 2011)

"45 per cent of blind and partially sighted people say that they have difficulties with distinguishing between bank notes and coins." (Edwards, 2011)

Reading

"Four out of five blind and partially sighted people have difficulties with identifying food and medicine labels." (Pey, Nzegwu and Dooley, 2006)

"Blind and partially sighted readers face a dramatically limited choice of book titles. Only seven per cent of books are available in large print, unabridged audio and braille, including titles available in these formats as eBooks." (RNIB, 2011b)

Technology

"Computer usage amongst blind and partially sighted people is significantly lower than the general population." (Douglas et al, 2006)

Defining sight loss

Partial sight and blindness can impair:

  • the sharpness or clarity of our vision (visual acuity)
  • our ability to detect objects to either side, above or below the direction in which we are looking (visual fields)
  • our ability to detect contrast and see colours.

The reality of sight loss varies for each individual. While someone might have problems seeing small details on a television screen, others might find it difficult to make out the buttons on a remote control and a very small minority will be unable to see the screen at all.

Some people with sight loss read books in standard print, some read large print, some might use a magnifier to read a short newspaper article, others may not be able to read a poster on the bus or advertising hoarding. Others cannot read any print and may use braille or audio versions where available.

Some people can recognise a friend across the road, while others use a person's voice or clothes to help them recognise a friend in the same room.

Some people with sight loss recognise a shop from its window display. Other people with sight loss need assistance to find out what is for sale, read price labels or offers, locate products or the till.  

In medical terms, there are measures used to describe visual acuity. They refer to whether you can see when wearing lenses or glasses with the best prescription at 6 metres away (but not more) what someone with normal vision could see at 12 metres, 24 metres and so on. Some sight loss cannot be improved by lenses or glasses.

Commonly used definitions:

The Future sight loss UK reports use the US legal definition of blindness for the purposes of international comparison. This is best corrected visual acuity of less than 6/60. That is being able to see at 6 metres what someone with normal vision can see 60 metres away.

Partial sight was defined in the same report as being best corrected visual acuity of less than 6/12 to 6/60.

In the UK blindness is defined as 3/60 and partial sight as 6/60, but having a reduced visual field is also taken into account for registration, as this can have a significant effect on vision.