Too many workers leave the labour market permanently due to health problems, and yet too many people with a disabling condition are denied the opportunity to work. This is a social and economic tragedy common to virtually all OECD countries, and an apparent paradox that needs explaining. Why is it that health is improving, yet more and more people of working age end up out of the workforce relying on long-term sickness and disability benefits?
In all three countries, too little is done to avoid the flow from work to benefits and to move benefit recipients back to employment. At the same time, financial incentives to work and obligations for disabled people on benefits as well as employers are too weak. Many people with health problems can work, and want to work, so having a policy based around an assumption that they cannot work is fundamentally flawed. Helping those people to work is potentially a true ‘win-win’ policy: it helps people avoid exclusion and have higher incomes, at the same time as raising the prospect of higher economic output in the long term.
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This publication is the first in a series of three comparative reports on sickness and disability policies in selected OECD countries. The second report, published in 2007, covers Australia, Luxembourg, Spain and the United Kingdom, and the final one, published in 2008, covers Denmark, Finland, Ireland and the Netherlands. The three comparative reports will be followed by a synthesis report that will summarise the lessons learned in the course of the thematic review.