07/11/2006 - Poland should act quickly to make it easier for disabled people to find work as part of a major reform of its disability policies, according to a new OECD report.
Sickness, Disability and Work: Breaking the Barriers - Norway, Poland and Switzerland analyses the sickness and disability policies of these countries. It proposes steps the governments should take to cut the number of people claiming these benefits and help them back into the labour market.
In Poland, less than one in five disabled people is employed. This is far below the OECD average of over two out of five. And those who are employed tend to have part-time or temporary jobs in sheltered work enterprises, often in agriculture, and, less frequently, in the public sector.
The employment problems of people with disabilities are partly due to the overall poor labour market situation in Poland, which had the highest unemployment rate in the OECD area of 15.5% in the second quarter 2006. Further reforms of sickness and disability policies should therefore be undertaken in parallel with general labour market and product market reforms aimed at making work pay, raising labour demand and encouraging a shift from informal to formal employment so that work can become a realistic option for persons with a disability.
Based on its review, the OECD's report makes the following policy recommendations:
Vocational rehabilitation and training need to be improved It appears that eligibility criteria are too strict, labour offices have inadequate funding, and so far people hesitate to enter the few available voluntary vocational programmes.
The system of employment support has to be reformed. Streamlining administrative structures and responsibilities is necessary. The large number of players involved - social insurance institutions, Public Employment Service, Fund for the Employment and Rehabilitation of Disabled People, local governments - makes it difficult for a disabled person to get the right support at the right time.
Wage subsidies and Sheltered Work Enterprises should be made more effective. The strong focus on heavily subsidised sheltered work has perpetuated the segregation of disabled workers and hindered their integration into the regular labour market.
The benefit system also needs further adjustments. In particular, measures are needed to ensure that the rapid decline in the number of new disability entitlements will be sustainable and long-lasting. As a ratio of the working-age population, this number fell from a level of twice the OECD average in 1999 to below that average in 2005. However, over the same period, the inflow into early retirement schemes more than doubled. To avoid a turnaround in the declining trend in inflows into disability benefits in the course of forthcoming phasing-out of early retirement schemes, the following measures should be adopted:
Disability assessment procedures should be streamlined. The high proportion of successful appeals against rejected benefit claims (more than 50% compared to around 10% in most other OECD countries) needs to be examined.
Financial incentives to work should be improved to promote voluntary moves into the labour market by beneficiaries who are willing and able to work. Reform should include a smoother phase-out of disability benefits with rising wages and better co-ordination between the phasing-out of disability and other benefits.
Better co-ordination is needed between the reformed old age pension system and the disability benefit scheme, especially as the early retirement options are being phased out.
Journalists can obtain a copy of Sickness, Disability and Work: Breaking the Barriers - Norway, Poland and Switzerland by contacting the OECD's Media Division (tel. +331 4524 9700). For further information, please contact one of the authors in OECD's Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs: Christopher Prinz (tel. +331 4524 9483), Patrik Andersson (tel.+ 331 4524 8851) and Michael Förster (tel. +331 4524 9280).