Across the OECD, people with disability still struggle to thrive in the labour market
The new OECD report “Disability, Inclusion and Work: Mainstreaming in all Policies and Practices” shows that, while the employment rates of people with disability have improved over the past decade, the disability gap in employment remains large. In 2019, across a set of 32 OECD countries, about one in four people with high support requirements and one in two with moderate support requirements had a job. Taken together, the employment rate of people with disability was 27 percentage points lower than for people without disability. The employment gap is persistent as people with disability face a substantial and lasting disability skills gap: without the required skills and the possibility to upgrade those skills in a constantly changing labour market, people with disability are not on an equal footing to fill a vacancy or keep a job. Low rates of employment are also responsible for high rates of poverty among people with disability. Across the OECD, one in four people with disability live in low-income households (i.e. disposable income below 60% of the median) compared to one in seven people without disability.
Over the past decade, countries have focused on promoting employment efforts in disability programmes not recognising, to a sufficient degree that people applying for a disability benefit will often have had fragile and interrupted employment experiences and may have been navigating the welfare system for years. As a result, numerous reforms of disability benefit systems have had limited impact on employment rates of people with disability. Going forward, governments should focus on three key areas to improve the labour market inclusion of people with disability:
- Making early intervention the norm, with a number of efforts before any application to disability benefits. For welfare policy, early intervention means two things. First, equipping sickness insurance programmes with strong return-to-work components, obligations for both employers and employees, and occupational and vocational rehabilitation pathways. Second, focusing on potential future disability claimants among jobseekers, by strengthening the capacity of (public) employment services to identify health barriers early and to provide measures that target each individual’s needs, including the needs of people with disability or health barriers to employment.
- Tackling persistent skills gaps of people with disability through future-ready adult learning systems. This hinges on making mainstream adult learning accessible and inclusive to people with disability, and on a strong role of public employment services to reach out to groups not traditionally registered with them, such as sickness and disability benefit recipients.
- Supporting young people with disability, through inclusive education, school-to-work-transition programmes adapted to the realities of young people with disability, and adequate, incentive-compatible social protection closely linked with school-to-work supports.
The report argues that policy efforts in the past two decades have not gone far enough, despite good intentions. To make policies more effective, future change must come under a strong disability-mainstreaming angle. Disability mainstreaming, which is also at the core of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, should be implemented rigorously in all policy areas. Mainstream stakeholders and mainstream institutions must understand the importance of disability inclusion, and be accountable for the outreach to and equal inclusion of people with disability in their programmes and approaches.