THE Irish economy is continuing its impressive rate of job creation, but for some, the recovery is yet to begin.
For most groups in society, the rate of job entry has picked up in recent years and the rate of exit has dropped. However, between 2010 and 2015, people with a disability were still more likely to exit than enter employment, and there has been little sign of a recovery for them.
The statistics make for dispiriting reading: Only 31% of working-age people with a disability are at work. This is less than half the rate of those without a disability (which is 71%).
As well as this, while a significant majority of people (four in five) with a disability have been employed at some stage in their life, for more than a third, it has been four years or more since they have had a job. If all people with a disability who wanted a job (and were capable of working) had one, half of them would be at work instead of less than a third, and they would constitute nearly 5% of those with a job.
Instead, many must rely on social welfare payments for their income because they face barriers to accessing or retaining a job, or their disability precludes them from employment. Not coincidentally, they are also one of the sectors of society most likely to be at risk of poverty. Without specific interventions, the percentage of people with a disability in employment is unlikely to increase.
What can be done to help? Social Justice Ireland believes that two big steps would be:
* allowing people with a disability to retain their Free Travel Pass for five years after taking up employment;
* raising the Medical Card earnings disregard for people on Disability Allowance.
For almost all of us, taking up employment means incurring additional expenses and losing certain benefits and payments. These expenses are often automatically higher if you have a disability, and that can make taking up employment even more difficult. These two moves, recommendations made by a recent report commissioned by the Department of Social Protection, would go some of the way to tackling that problem. Disappointingly, there was no provision for either in Budget 2018.
NOT A CASE OF “US AND THEM”
There are more than 640,000 people living in Ireland today with a disability. Four out of five acquired their disability during their working lives and another 56,000 individuals will have been diagnosed with a disability this year alone, so it is in the interests of society as a whole that this issue is addressed properly.
In the longer term, efforts to retain people with disabilities in employment for as long as possible will also be important in increasing their employment rate.
People with disabilities in employment tend to be better educated than those who are not at work generally. Retaining their human capital, experience, and skills is of benefit to society, as well as to the individuals themselves and their families.
Ireland was due to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities this year. The Taoiseach has given a firm commitment to ratifying the Convention, but so far this has not happened. However, even in the event of its ratification, it must to be accompanied by meaningful financial provision or nothing will change.
Article 28 of this Convention recognises the right of people with disabilities to have an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families. Currently, Ireland is not meeting these standards: the weekly Disability Allowance is set at €193, which is the same as Jobseekers’ Allowance. Jobseekers’ Allowance is a temporary allowance for someone looking for a job. Many people with disabilities are relying on the Disability Allowance as a long-term payment and find themselves living in consistent poverty as a result.
This payment also does not take account of the fact that it costs people with a disability, in most cases, more money to achieve the same basic standard of living as someone without a disability. 132,000 people with disabilities were living in consistent poverty in 2015 and the consistent poverty rate for these people was 22% in 2015, compared to a national average that year of 8.7%.
Greater flexibility for those with episodic conditions to move in and out of payments, and still work when they can, would greatly improve matters. Indeed, a system of Basic Income, which has been proposed by Social Justice Ireland for a number of years, would have the effect of providing the increased flexibility required — by people with a disability and without — that they may take up employment when available for work and when suitable work is available, without undue risk to living standards during the “in-between” periods that occur between employment and receiving benefits.
What is certain is that the situation for people with disabilities will not improve without the necessary political will and funding. As one of the most vulnerable groups in our society, this issue deserves far greater attention.
Eamon Murphy is Economic and Social Analyst with Social Justice Ireland, an independent think tank. More at www.socialjustice.ie