4. Getting persons with disabilities into employment

In a changing world of work where job losses and job transitions are becoming more and more common throughout individual working lives and where unemployment levels have risen significantly in many countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the PES plays an increasingly important role in national, regional and local efforts to tackle unemployment and support economic growth. Through a wide range of supportive and activating measures, the PES is a policy tool to reduce unemployment spells, shorten unfilled vacancy durations, share objective labour market information and boost the quantity and quality of jobs (OECD, 2015[1]; WAPES-IDB-OECD, 2016[2]). Moreover, the PES plays a critical role in enhancing labour market mobility and helping those who face particular challenges to participate in the labour market (OECD, 2003[3]; European Commission, 2013[4]).

PES may be defined as a system of services provided directly by the state or through contracted services that help match jobseekers (supply) and employers (demand) in the labour market through information, placement and active support services at all levels of government. The main functions of the PES include job-brokerage for jobseekers and employers, development of labour market information and administration of labour market adjustment programmes (see Table 4.1). These services often present the core business of PES (WAPES-IDB-OECD, 2016[2]). In recent years, many countries including Ireland have integrated the administration of unemployment benefits with employment services in so-called PES “one-stop-shops”. However, many countries still have another agency which administer benefits.

In traditional welfare states, unemployment protection systems were designed to provide unemployment insurance for the temporarily unemployed breadwinner with insured unemployment benefit while social insurance was provided to those that were deemed unable to work (Armingeon and Bonoli, 2006[5]). Yet, as more groups are entering the labour market and the nature of labour market risks changes, the role and activities of PES have changed and the borders between employment and social policies are blurring (Heidenreich and Rice, 2016[6]). Many of the new workers, including women, lone parents, and immigrants, tend to be in a disadvantaged position in the labour market and may face work and pay discrimination, unstable employment, higher risk of job loss and a lack of social insurance (OECD, 2014[7]; 2019[8]). Consequently, countries have broadened the provision of unemployment benefits and the client groups of PES, so to cover people with little or unstable labour market attachment. Today, individuals served by PES include not only those on unemployment benefits, but also unemployed on other types of benefits (e.g. social benefit, illness benefit and disability benefit), others not working and not classified as unemployed (e.g. students or inactive) and those already in employment (OECD, 2015[1]).

Among the new groups served by the PES are persons with disabilities. Ensuring that persons with disabilities are supported in achieving their employment ambitions is a key labour market challenge for policy makers today. Persons with disabilities experience pervasive and persistent barriers to employment, resulting in consistently poorer labour force participation, fewer hours worked, and lower wages compared to people without disabilities. Yet, evidence suggests that persons with disabilities regard the importance of work very highly (Sundar et al., 2018[9]), that they may be a very valuable source of labour in most workplaces and that they often are able to and/or would like to take up work, should the right conditions exist. As shown in Chapter 2, this is also the case in Ireland, where a significant share of the working-age population receiving a disability benefit and not working indicate that they are “not ill, able to work and not retired”. Combined with high poverty rates among persons with disabilities, there are many arguments for strengthening labour market inclusion for this group. PES play an important role in this regard.

PES may deliver support to persons with disabilities in many different ways and through many different channels depending on the severity of the disability, when the disability was acquired (before or after taking up work) and the types of benefit received. Table 4.2 gives an overview of the main types of PES measures for persons with disabilities across OECD countries. These services may be delivered either as a part of the mainstream system or by providers specialised in support for persons with disabilities. In addition to the employment support measures outlined in this table, PES may also make use of a range of other measures including work accommodation such as flexibility in working hours and the place of work (see Chapter 3), job retention measures, and measures strengthening the incentives for employers including wage subsidy schemes and employment quotas.

In many OECD countries PES have moved towards more activation-oriented policies that shift the focus from passive income support to activation policies to support people in their job search and reemployment (Clasen and Clegg, 2012[10]; OECD, 2015[1]). Today, active labour market programmes (ALMP) are one of the main instruments used by PES to promote the transition from welfare to work and to (re)integrate people into the labour market. Activation includes both the provision of employment services and obligations on individuals who are able to work, to look for jobs or to participate in training. Often, this implies that the entitlement to benefits become conditional on active job search, availability for work or participation in training and sanctions in benefits are put in place if requirements are not met.

While activation policies originally were directed towards individuals receiving unemployment benefits, increasingly these measures are extended to other types of income support payments that have hitherto been offered free of any activation requirements – e.g. illness, social, disability and lone parents benefits (Carcillo and Grubb, 2006[11]). Several factors have motivated this extension, including rising public expenditure on non-employment benefits especially following a general tightening of eligibility criteria and associated requirements for unemployment benefit schemes in the 1990s and the challenges arising from population ageing calling for long-term increases in labour market participation. Importantly, motivation comes also from the increasing evidence that a large part of the inactive groups can and are interested in taking up work in one form or the other and the recognition that PES through their expertise, services and contacts with employers can play an important supporting role in this transition into work. Nevertheless, in most countries the measures have not yet materialised in significantly reduced public spending on benefits nor a great improvement in the integration of people with disabilities in the labour market (OECD, 2010[12]) and many countries, including Ireland, still spend a rather low share of GDP on ALMP (Figure 4.1).

The role of PES has become even more important in light of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. The pandemic has thrown the world into an economic crisis and put a large number of jobs at risk in both the short and long term. As described in Chapter 2, the crisis is already having a severe negative impact on job creation and unemployment levels in Ireland with different impact across regions. PES systems play an important role in keeping the labour market functioning during the COVID-19 crisis, including for more vulnerable groups. This includes preventing unemployment (e.g. through short-time work schemes), dealing with increasing inflows of jobseekers and benefit applications, ensuring that benefits are paid out without delay, providing information to jobseekers and employers, encouraging and supporting jobseekers to stay active, and providing up-skilling, re-skilling and matching services for workers to prepare for the post-COVID-19 labour market (OECD, 2020[13]).

Nevertheless, the introduction of confinement measures and social distance requirements are posing a significant challenge to the delivery of services by the PES. As staff can no longer meet with their clients face-to-face, digital measures have become a key element to the short- and medium-term response by PES. Digital measures are needed to streamline benefit application processes in times of increasing demand (e.g. through automation and a well-developed IT infrastructure for online applications) and to provide employment and activation services (e.g. through online job vacancy databases, other job-search tools, online career guidance and e-learning/online training courses) (OECD, 2020[13]).

Digitalisation is not equally accessible by all groups in society and people without digital skills, internet access or access to digital equipment or with disabilities that prevent them from using online tools should receive particular support from the PES system. Experiences from PES that opted for a full digital option already before the COVID-19 crisis have shown that cohorts of digitally illiterate job seekers and employers were excluded from the offer or had significant difficulties to use it to the full extent (Pieterson, 2019[16]). The challenge is especially significant for persons with disabilities, who as shown in Chapter 3 on average are about three times as likely to not have a computer in their household or access to internet for personal use when needed. As the COVID-19 crisis evolves, digital exclusion is even more persistent and in this situation PES need to pay particular attention to people who are excluded from employment support due to digitalisation in accordance with Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the EU Web Accessibility Directive. This may include that phone services are maintained as an alternative to online services and that benefit applications can be taken via phone, regular mail, or dropped off in a box at the local PES office (see Box 4.1).

Ireland has a comprehensive system of PES that includes a series of internally managed and externally contracted service providers, which deliver services to a broad range of groups. As in many other countries, the aim of the PES in Ireland is twofold: first, to manage the provision of income support payments and, second, to provide labour market activation services through the provision of job search assistance, employer intermediation services, counselling and monitoring.

Over the past decades, the Irish PES has undergone considerable changes. Previously, PES provision was administered by a number of agencies under the remit of different ministerial departments. However, in light of the rapid rise in unemployment levels following the 2008 global financial crisis and the challenges of the existing system identified in previous research (Grubb, Singh and Tergeits, 2009[17]), a far-reaching reform of the Irish PES system was undertaken from 2011. The reform included the integration of income maintenance and employment supports in a “one-stop-stop” service called Intreo placed under the remit of the Department of Social Protection (DSP) (Köppe and O’Connell, 2017[18]; Kelly et al., 2019[19]). In addition, due to significant increases in the Live Register, which shows the number of individuals registering for the two unemployment benefit schemes (Jobseekers Benefit and Jobseekers Allowance) in 2011-12, a new contracted service named JobPath with a focus on the activation of long-term unemployed was created in 2015 to increase overall PES capacity (Lavelle and Callaghan, 2018[20]). With the introduction of a new case management system that links unemployment benefit payments to active engagement with jobseekers to support them into training and employment, the reform also represented a move towards greater activation of unemployment benefit recipients in order to improve their progression to employment.

Currently, there are five main activation providers under the PES umbrella in Ireland – Intreo, Job Clubs, Local Employment Services (LES), JobPath and EmployAbility (see Table 4.3). The majority of services are provided through an external service model operating according to different forms of contracts (Department of Social Protection, 2016[21]). Their main activities include job brokerage, provision of labour market information, labour market polices to adjust labour demand and supply, management of labour migration, jobseekers engagement and employer engagement. While Intreo and Job Clubs target mainly the short-term unemployed, LES, JobPath and EmployAbility target mainly the long-term unemployed and people with a health condition, illness or disability. However, there is an overlap in target groups and the criteria used to determine the appropriate provider are not always clear (Lavelle and Callaghan, 2018[20]).

The journey of the individual jobseeker in the PES system depends on the duration of unemployment, if the jobseeker is “job ready” or not and if the individual falls within the activation or non-activation cohort (see Box 4.2). While the activation interventions are rather similar across all PES providers (focus on group sessions and one-to-one client engagement), the intensity in follow-up reviews as well as the specific activation services provided differ across providers (Lavelle and Callaghan, 2018[20]).

During the period 2018-20, the number of case officers and expenditure has gone down in Intreo, LES and Job Clubs (Table 4.4 and Table 4.5). For Intreo, which is the only provider where both type of data is available from 2015, the downscaling started already in 2015. Despite a small fall from 2019 to 2020, the total number of case officers in EmployAbility has increased from 2018 to 2020, while the expenditure level has remained stable. The introduction of JobPath in 2015 presented a large increase in overall PES staffing as well as expenditure in the years 2015-17. This rise in staff and resources reflects the policy of increasing activation of the long-term unemployed through a targeted service delivery. However, already from 2019 the expenditure level of JobPath started falling and in 2020 it was below the 2017 level. Lastly, data shows that the case load per case officer is significantly lower in EmployAbility than in Job Clubs and LES (the two other branches for which data is available) (Table 4.6); this is in line with international good practice for services for persons with disabilities. The sharp decline in the caseload in both Job Clubs and LES in the period 2018-20 is likely to be explained by the special circumstances of the COVID-pandemic.

Looking at the geography, the five PES providers are operating in approximately 314 office locations across the country corresponding to an average of one PES office for every 10 641 persons (2016 numbers). The provider represented in most locations is JobPath (with 90 locations, representing 28% of the total share) followed by LES and Intreo (with 27% and 20% respectively). 24 contractors are delivering EmployAbility services on behalf of the DSP in 31 locations across the country. The geographical variation of PES offices per county ranges from a high of 79 in Dublin to a low of two in Longford and Cavan. Meath, Dublin, Cavan, Laois and Kildare have a lower number of offices per capita than the State average with Mayo, Monaghan, Leitrim and Kerry reporting a higher number (Indecon, 2016[22]; Lavelle and Callaghan, 2018[20]).

In 2008, the OECD concluded that Ireland had a rather fragmented benefit system for persons with disabilities, with too little consideration given to identifying the remaining work capacity in assessing eligibility for long-term disability payments (OECD, 2008[23]).

Structurally, the situation has changed very little: Ireland still has a range of health-related benefits, which can be received on a long-term basis, some of them means tested and others not, and distinguished by whether the applicant has a sufficient insurance record, a long-term condition, a work-related condition, a special type of disability, or a combination of these factors. In addition, recipients of primary benefits are entitled to a range of secondary benefits, including free travel or free medical care (through entitlement to the Medical Card). This further reduces the incentives to move off primary payments although with the latest make-work-pay reform, higher earnings limits have been introduced, allowing benefit recipients to keep their secondary benefits up to this earnings threshold when moving into work. Despite the multitude of health-related benefits available in Ireland, only three of them really matter: Disability Allowance, Illness Benefit, and Invalidity Pension (see Box 4.3). Other payments, such as Blind Pension and Blind Welfare Allowance and the two occupational injury payments (Injury Benefit and Disablement Benefit) have a very small number of beneficiaries.

Taking all primary benefits together, more than 10% of the Irish working-age population receives a disability payment (Figure 4.2); this is twice as high a share as the OECD average and the highest share after Norway (MacDonald, Prinz and Immervoll, 2020[24]). The number of people receiving Illness Benefit is falling slowly and gradually ever since the introduction in 2009 of the two-year cap on payment duration, while the number of Invalidity Pension recipients has stayed very stable over the past decade and even longer. On the contrary, the number of Disability Allowance recipients has increased gradually in the past 20 years with a particularly sharp increase in the past five years. This has led to an overall increase in the illness and disability benefit caseload.

Between 2008 and 2018, total expenditure on Disability Allowance increased by 51%, following a corresponding increase in the number of recipients (47%). Three quarters of the growth in the caseload between 2012 and 2016 is policy-induced, and only a quarter can be explained by demographic change and changes in disability prevalence rates (Callaghan, 2017[25]). About 21% of the growth is due to the steep increase among the group of beneficiaries aged 16-19. About half of those whose parents or carers receive Domiciliary Care Allowance (DCA) transition onto Disability Allowance at age 16, when their parents or carers lose DCA entitlement. A further 14% of the increase is due to an increase of persons switching from Illness Benefit, related to the implementation of the two-year cap on that payment in 2009. About 13% of the growth comes from an almost 80% increase in the inflow of persons previously on Jobseeker Payment. This sharp increase took place against a background of falling numbers on the Live Register. Whereas inflows into Disability Allowance increased, outflows stagnated. Between 2012 and 2016, only about 8 000 individuals managed to exit the scheme; one-third of them were aged 65 and entered the pension system. More than half of the recipients were availing of the scheme for more than five years (Callaghan, 2017[25]).

Increasing inflows and stagnating outflows point to the key importance of early intervention to support employment or early return to work before joblessness becomes established.1 For those who want to and are able to work, critical interventions points include the moment when young people with disabilities leave education, or when an adult experiences the onset of a disability in the course of working life. On the contrary, access to disability payments In Ireland seems easier than in other OECD countries. Benefit recipients are individually assessed for benefit eligibility but the assessment hinges to a large degree on the judgement of the individual’s personal doctor. There seems to be a lack of clear guidelines to medical professionals on what constitutes full and partial working capacity. Vocational criteria (i.e. the assessment of the remaining ability to work) could play a more prominent role in the assessment of individuals, as also mentioned by the 2017 Review of Partial Capacity Benefit (DSP, 2017[26]). In addition, there is a need for continuous and rigorous re-assessment given that both the health situation and the work capacity of the benefit recipient may improve, as has been demonstrated in other countries such as the Netherlands (Garcia Mandico et al., 2017[27]).

The work orientation of the Irish benefit system has improved somewhat in the past 12 years. Higher earning disregards for some of the primary and secondary benefits and the introduction in 2012 of yet another payment to improve incentives for recipients of long-term unemployed to move into work – Partial Capacity Benefit – have improved the incentives to work to some degree. Nevertheless, only approximately 10% of all Disability Allowance recipients are in work while in receipt of a payment, with average earnings of around EUR 120 a week, which corresponds closely to the level of the earnings disregard for employment. Moreover, the introduction of Partial Capacity Benefit in 2012 meant a further fragmentation of an already overly fragmented system of disability payments.

Given the broad range of PES and benefit schemes in Ireland, there are multiple journeys through the system for persons with disabilities. In particular, the individual journey depends on the severity of the disability or health problem, when the individual has acquired the health problem or disability (before or after entering the labour market) and the type of benefit that the individual receives (which often will be a consequence of the first two). Table 4.7 gives an overview of the main client types in Ireland.

PES can offer multiple services that employed persons with disabilities could benefit from (Client group 1 in Table 4.7) in order to stay in their current position or to identify new job opportunities.

First, in several countries, PES plays an important role in providing clear information and guidance on how to reasonably accommodate health problems of employees by adjusting job tasks, working time or workplace, and what financial and practical supports are available to employers (see Chapter 3). In the Irish context, Irish employers are legally required to put in place reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities throughout all work-related activities, from the job application process through to termination. Accommodation is therefore important for all PES client types with disabilities, be it in employment or looking for employment. However, Intreo currently does not provide information or training resources for employers to guide them in their legal responsibility to provide reasonable accommodation (NDA, 2019[28]). Its main flyer for employers “Your Guide to our Schemes and Services: Employer Services and Supports” lists the financial accommodation supports available. Employer awareness and usage of these supports, however, are low.

Second, employed persons with disabilities looking for new work opportunities can, just like any other individual, make use of the labour market information and job brokerage, which is provided by PES in many OECD countries. In Ireland, Intreo lists job vacancies on its website and it offers individuals, including employees, to plan a meeting with a case officer for assistance and advice on employment, training and personal development opportunities. Employed persons, with or without disabilities, in firms facing redundancies may benefit from more proactive PES support. Intreo can also refer persons to further education and training (FET). However, only few Irish employees, with and without disabilities, seem to enrol into FET funded by SOLAS (Figure 4.3).2 Employees seem to rely more often on other possibilities of adult learning, including employer-provided and on-the-job learning (see Chapter 3).

Third, PES often play a role in facilitating return-to-work of employees on paid sick leave in OECD countries (again, see Chapter 3). Currently, Ireland does not have obligatory capacity-oriented sickness certificates or systematic reassessment of workers on paid sick leave. Workers on Illness Benefit can voluntarily avail of any services that Intreo offers, but they are not obliged to do so. In this way, the Irish system is not geared towards early intervention despite the well-known benefits hereof also for persons on paid sick leave. For persons who acquire a disability while in work and need to undergo rehabilitation, evidence shows that the longer the absence from work, the greater the challenge of bringing the persons back into the labour market (ILO OECD, 2018[31]). Therefore, early intervention should come in the form of obligatory participation in vocational rehabilitation offered almost immediately after the transition from work to benefits rather than only after several months or years – as shown in the Danish pilot project (see Box 4.4).

Under a more proactive and capacity-oriented return-to-work regime, Intreo could play a facilitating role by advising on what tasks a worker can still reasonably perform and what accommodation is necessary at fixed dates during sick leave. Also, Intreo could support employers and employees if gradual return-to-work options become more ingrained. In such a system, and as advocated by its 2017 review, the Partial Capacity Benefit would become more like an in-work benefit and early intervention device to allow clients to work according to their capacity, which may increase with recovery (DSP, 2017[26]). Currently, Illness Benefit recipients willing and able to work have to wait for six months and then voluntarily transfer to Partial Capacity Benefit. This route is used very little. Again, Intreo could support employers and employees if partial return to work becomes the norm.

In Ireland, all individuals who become unemployed, including persons with disabilities, start their journey in Intreo (Client group 2 in Table 4.7). All unemployment benefit claims are made through Intreo and the service decides if clients should be referred to other parts of the PES system. Information is gathered from all new jobseekers within the first days after they make their claim and is used to grant different types of benefits as well as refer clients to other relevant PES services. Following this initial segmentation (see below), Intreo is responsible for the first 12 months of support and activation of all jobseekers who are granted unemployment benefits, including persons with disabilities. After 12 months, the persons still not in employment are transferred to LES or JobPath for long-term unemployment support.

For persons granted unemployment benefits, Intreo uses a statistical profiling tool to calculate a Probability of Exit (PEX) score that identifies the jobseeker’s likelihood of existing the Live Register within 12 months (O’Connell et al., 2009[34]). The statistical model has 24 characteristics and related coefficients for both men and women and the calculated score is used to triage jobseekers in one of three groups, according to their support needs. The most employable 20% is referred to self-service; the least employable 20% and young jobseekers under age 25 have monthly visits with their caseworker; and the remaining group bimonthly (Kelly et al., 2019[19]). In this way, the statistical profiling automatically determines the frequency and timing of contacts or assignment of different service streams, rather than simply being a support measure that can be overruled by the caseworker when relevant. The use of profiling tools to determine the timing and intensity of the support for jobseekers identified as at-risk of becoming long-term unemployed is widespread across OECD countries (Desiere, Langenbucher and Struyven, 2019[35]).

A significant shortcoming of the Irish profiling tool, however, is that data on a persons’ disability is not recorded on the systems for unemployment benefits and is not incorporated in the statistical profiling tool. Data on disability is only recorded in the system if a person on unemployment benefits tells a Case Officer they have a disability when discussing “barriers to work” (but without any description of the nature or degree of the disability). The disability status is not data stamped and therefore it cannot be indentified if the client had the disability at the time of appointment. There are at least two downsides to this way of recording data on disability in the PES system. First, it makes it difficult for the Irish authorities to calculate and analyse the share of persons with disabilities among the groups of short- and long-term unemployed receiving unemployment benefits. Second, it makes it difficult for Intreo to personalise its services to persons with disabilities on unemployment benefit. While profiling creates a risk of segregation, it is also a key measure to personalise and target support services and thus make services more effective and efficient to the benefit of both the individual and the system (Desiere, Langenbucher and Struyven, 2019[35]). The Irish authorities should develop their registration practice and profiling tool to better support persons with disabilities on unemployment benefits. An interesting example of a profiling tool that also takes into account the specific challenges of persons with disabilities are found in Estonia (Box 4.5).

Once the initial segmentation has been done, persons with disabilities have access to the same mainstream employment support measures and are subject to the same activation measures as all other unemployment beneficiaries. Activation in the form of compulsory engagement and case management process to support individuals back into employment commences immediately (i.e. on the day a jobseeker makes a benefit claim), jobseekers are monitored through regular compulsory engagement with an Intreo officer, and if a jobseeker fails to engage with the PES he/she will be sanctioned (Kelly et al., 2019[19]). Clients are expected to use the supports offered during the activation process, which might include training, employment support to help them back into the workplace, internships and other supports.

An initial evaluation of the effectiveness of Intreo indicates that the service may not be better than its (highly criticised) predecessor in getting unemployed persons into employment, education or training (see Box 4.6). In addition, a recent study on the inflows and outflows to Disability Allowance in Ireland showed that in the period 2012 to 2016, an increasing share of all exits from unemployment benefits were to Disability Allowance (from 0.3% or 813 persons in 2012 to 1.7% or 4 127 persons in 2016) (Cronin, 2018[37]). As this increase coincides more or less with the creation of Intreo in 2011/2012, it indicates that the service has not managed to prevent a flow of persons to Disability Allowance. This indicates that Intreo, despite the use of activation measures and work-availability requirements, is not sufficiently able to support unemployment beneficiaries with disabilities in getting into work.

Unemployed persons with disabilities make less use of adult learning – a key mainstream employment support and activation measure for persons with disabilities to promote a return to work. Adult learning is particularly relevant for persons with disabilities given their on average lower level of education and potentially higher levels of human capital depreciation due to more frequent and longer non-employment spells. Persons with disabilities as well as employers consistently mention low skill levels as a major impediment to labour force participation, as discussed in greater detail in Chapter 3 (Erickson et al., 2014[38]; Sundar et al., 2018[39]). However, persons with disabilities participate less often in further education and training (FET) funded by SOLAS (Figure 4.3). Less than one in four unemployed persons with long-lasting health problems were enrolled in FET from SOLAS, compared to one in three among all unemployed persons with disabilities. The reason for this participation gap merits further scrutiny.

Despite these significant challenges for the mainstream system in delivering targeted support for persons with disabilities, it is nevertheless positive that persons with disabilities receiving unemployment benefits have access to mainstream services and are subject to work-availability and activation requirements – not least to ensure early intervention to avoid long-term unemployment. In combination with an improvement of current profiling tools and a redirection of public resources to ensure high-quality mainstream support also for persons with disabilities, it could advantageously be expanded to other groups of persons with disabilities, including those receiving services from EmployAbility and more generally those receiving disability payments.

EmployAbility is the main specialised employment support service dedicated to improving employment outcomes for jobseekers with a disability with the main aim to support them to take up suitable and fulfilling mainstream employment. The target group of EmployAbility is jobseekers aged 18 to 65, who have a disability and require support to succeed in long-term and sustainable employment. This may include persons with disabilities on Disability Allowance, Illness Benefit and unemployment benefits, which means that the service is serving all of the three client groups outlined in Table 4.7.

All potential clients must be referred through an Intreo or LES office (with a medical report/certificate if on unemployment benefits and without such certificate if on other types of benefits). The range of disability is broad and can include intellectual, mental health, physical, sensory, and hidden disability. Importantly, the client must be “job ready”, defined as having the necessary training, motivation, education and ability to progress to work and pursue work in the open labour market; willing and able (with support) to work at least eight hours per week in open employment; and having the required training and education for their chosen career (Indecon, 2016[22]). The Department of Social Protection contracts with 24 companies for the delivery of EmployAbility services in 31 locations and the service operates an 18-month programme and provides support to the individual before taking up employment, in the application process and during employment, as well as support to the employer (Indecon, 2016[22]).

Results from a 2016 evaluation of EmployAbility show high levels of client satisfaction. In a survey conducted as a part of the evaluation, a majority of clients surveyed were of the view that the programme has provided increased opportunities to gain work experience or/and employment, increased motivation and increased self-confidence, and contributed to their sense of health and well-being (80% or above agreed). Moreover, the evaluation found high levels of satisfaction with the service among clients, with 87.9% of respondents being satisfied overall with the service. A majority of respondents indicated that they were satisfied with the helpfulness of staff (92%), the availability of a local EmployAbility service (89%), and the application process (88%) (Indecon, 2016[22]). Despite these positive results, the service seems to be facing significant challenges with regard to take-up and success rate.

Data from the period 2010-14 show that EmployAbility supported around 3 000 clients at any given stage. This corresponds to the combined capacity of the 24 contracted EmployAbility services as defined in the commissioning contract with the Department for Social Protection. However, if one relates the EmployAbility referral and client numbers to the numbers of persons with a disability aged 18 to 65 who are unemployed, this suggests that the service is meeting only about 6-7% of the potential demand in Ireland (based on 2014 figures) (Indecon, 2016[22]). This indicates that the service supports only a very small cohort of clients relative to potential demand and, in light of the large increase in Disability Allowance recipients over recent years, there is a need to assess the current capacity of the service vis-à-vis the actual demand. Looking at the outcome of EmployAbility, in 2014, the proportion of clients in employment with support from the services was 41.9%, the percentage of clients exiting the programme while in employment was 33.6%,3 and only 25.3% of clients remained in open employment after six months without support from the service. At the same time, there is a high level of client non-completion (47% in 2014) due to unsuitability, ill health or non-engagement (Indecon, 2016[22]).

In addition to the commissioning contract, the limited capacity of the service may also be explained by the requirement of “job readiness”, which restricts the service to those clients who already have the necessary training and education to progress to work. This is also reflected by the fact that EmployAbility (in contrast to most of the other PES services) cannot refer clients to training, education, work experience or employment programmes and does not provide labour market information, career guidance, drop in services, and funding to remove barriers to employment (Lavelle and Callaghan, 2018[20]). The risk of such a strict eligibility criteria is a “loss” of people who could possibly have entered the labour market if they were given the right training and support in order to become “job ready”. At the same time, the high rate of non-completion may imply that the service is already dealing with clients that to a lesser extent are “job ready”, but that it lacks the necessary means to give them the right support. The Irish authorities should consider if there is as role for the service to play in supporting a broader range of persons on disability payments. This could include a stronger focus on bringing young persons with disabilities receiving disability benefits closer to the labour market. While this group is currently to some extent supported by the Ability Programme (Box 4.7), this programme is only temporary in nature (funding ends in 2021) and is not embedded within the permanent structure of the Irish PES system.

Another characteristic of the EmployAbility scheme that may explain the low success rate is that it is provided to clients without any requirements of work availability or activation. In contrast to the other PES services, clients are not required to be available for work (part or full-time) or to participate in activation measures such as rehabilitation programmes or interview training and, accordingly, they are not subject to sanctions in case of non-compliance with any requirements. As further discussed in the following sections, there are many reasons why it would be relevant for the Irish authorities to make the service obligatory at least for some groups of persons with disabilities and to introduce adequate participation requirements (targeted to a person’s work ability) as a part of the service.

Contrary to regular jobseekers, persons on disability payments in Ireland have no obligation to see an Intreo case officer. Service access to Intreo is in principle open to everyone and following the Comprehensive Employment Strategy (CES) for People with Disabilities 2015-24, Intreo is progressively rolling out its full support service also to persons on disability allowance or non-activation benefits who wish to avail for the service on a voluntary basis (Lavelle and Callaghan, 2018[20]). It is up to the benefit recipient to approach their local Intreo office in order to be informed of and avail of any employment support services. Once the benefit recipient reaches out to Intreo, she or he is entitled to have one-to-one engagements with a case officer as long as she or he feels it is necessary to progress towards or find employment. Non-engagement does not come with sanctions.

However, allowing everyone to access mainstream support is seldom sufficient. While the Irish PES have begun to shift towards the inclusion of “non-activation clients” who sign up on a voluntary basis, data show that these still make up a small minority of mainstream services and that services and resources are still targeted at activation clients.

The passive approach of Intreo towards persons on disability benefits is part of a larger viewpoint in Ireland that disability and work are somewhat incompatible (OECD, 2008[23]). This viewpoint does not serve the large community of persons on disability benefits well for multiple reasons. First, a large majority of benefit recipients can (and actually would like to) work (see Chapter 2). Second, it does not seem fair to leave it entirely in the hands of benefit recipients to improve their employability and find fitting opportunities to leave a state of relative precariousness, given the low income replacement rates of disability benefits in Ireland (see Chapter 2). Third, voluntary engagement tempers ambition levels of Intreo, as it becomes essentially impossible to set targets to bring clients on disability benefits into employment. Fourth, as in other OECD countries voluntary engagement is not effective. Levels of activation engagement between Intreo and inactive persons with disabilities are very low.4 Only very few recipients of disability payments exit benefits: about 4% of the benefit population (5 000 recipients) exited Disability Allowance while not retiring (not even necessarily into paid work) in 2016. More than half the recipients were availing of the scheme for longer than five years and average benefit duration is nine years (Callaghan, 2017[25]; Cronin, 2018[41]).5 Furthermore, inactive persons with disabilities rarely participate in further education and training (FET) funded by SOLAS (Figure 4.3). Ireland can learn from initiatives such as by the Dutch PES, which actively approaches disability benefit recipients to promote training as part of their re-integration, showing promising results (see Chapter 3).

Labour market outcomes for persons with disabilities will likely continue to disappoint unless Ireland will extend activation and participation requirements to disability payments in line with an individual’s capacity. Ireland can bring employment support into the process in multiple fashions.

First, Ireland should introduce a mandatory interview process for all persons on disability benefits, conducted by Intreo. The objective of such an interview should be to assess a person’s remaining work capacity and their barriers to work, and not their disability. In a second step, disability payments should be awarded on a transitory basis with regular reassessments of work capacity and entitlement, as is currently common for unemployment benefits. Such an approach may require additional training for case managers, so that they can effectively provide activation and support, tailored to the individual’s work capacity. It may also require disability awareness training given the potentially sensitive nature of disabilities. Frequency of reassessments could be made dependent on severity of disability and level of remaining work capacity. Ireland can take inspiration from capacity-oriented sickness certificates and reassessment procedures from the United Kingdom, Denmark and the Netherlands (see Chapter 3). Following recommendations from the Make Work Pay report, the Phase Two Action Plan 2019-21 of the Comprehensive Employment Strategy contains the action to write an implementation and communication plan to improve early engagement with persons with disabilities by Intreo.

Second, Ireland should improve possibilities for a gradual transition back to work, in line with a person’s (improving) work capacity. Ireland currently has two routes to promote a gradual transition back to work, both voluntary, with low uptake and limited employment impact:

  • Disability Allowance recipients are allowed to be in paid work up to a ceiling, though very few make use of this possibility. About 10% of recipients were engaged in some employment in 2016, earning on average about EUR 160-190 per week (Cronin, 2018[41]).6 Low take-up of earnings disregards is not due to limited generosity: Disability Allowance recipients can keep 100% of their earnings up to EUR 140 per week and 50% of their earnings between EUR 140 and EUR 350 per week. More fundamental problems are the voluntary nature of finding paid work and a fear of losing the Medical Card, which guarantees free basic health care services for the entire family and strongly disincentives employment. The much-cited Make Work Pay report came with improvements, most prominently by allowing individuals to earn up to EUR 427 per week while keeping the Medical Card, instead of EUR 120 before (DSP, 2017[42]). While these improvements are an important first step, they are unlikely to bend the curve in a meaningful way.7 A much more fundamental and equitable solution would be to improve access to universal health care, independent of employment, and to abolish the Medical Card (OECD, 2008[23]).

  • Partial Capacity Benefit allows individuals in receipt of Illness Benefit or Invalidity Pension to combine paid work with keeping a benefit. Moving to Partial Capacity Benefit is voluntary. The rate of payment depends on the personal rate of the qualifying scheme (Illness Benefit or Invalidity Pension) from which the customer originates and the medical assessment of the customer’s capacity for work at rates of 50%, 75%, or 100% respectively. There are no limits on working hours or earnings. Persons may return to their Illness Benefit or Invalidity Pension if, for example, employment ceases or if the person finds that she or he cannot continue to work. As of February 2021, about 3 000 individuals avail of Partial Capacity Benefit – about 2% of the benefit population of Illness Benefit and Invalidity Pension.8 A combination of measures could help to improve the effectiveness of Partial Capacity Benefit. Individuals with a disability willing and able to work should be able to obtain directly the benefit rather than first having to transfer from Invalidity Pension or Illness Benefit. The latter recipients should be able to transfer quicker onto the benefit than the current six months, as also proposed by the 2017 Review of Partial Capacity Benefit (DSP, 2017[26]). More ambitiously, Ireland should consider making Partial Capacity Benefit mandatory for those fulfilling the entitlement criteria and/or turning the benefit in part to an in-work payment, similar to partial disability payments in the Netherlands.

Third, further participation requirements and use of activation measures will be needed, at least for some groups. The Irish discussion on participation overlooks the necessity of activation for the large majority of those who could work and in many cases would like to work. Instead, Irish policy seems to be dominated by a focus on the least employable for whom participation requirements are not the relevant issue. The well-being of this group is pivotal but the Irish approach hinders better employment outcomes for persons with disabilities. As suggested by the OECD already in 2003, countries must develop a culture of mutual obligations also in disability policies, where societies accept their obligation to make efforts to support and (re)integrate persons with disabilities and where persons with disabilities and considerable work capacity themselves and, if applicable, their employers, make an effort to ensure their participation in the labour market (OECD, 2003[3]). This includes among other things that benefit receipt should be conditional on participation in employment, vocational rehabilitation and other integration measures and that failure to do so should result in benefit sanctions.

The fact that participation requirements are important to promote labour market participation can be seen from enrolment rates in further education and training (FET) funded by SOLAS. Unemployed persons are the only group that relatively frequently participates (33%, compared to 2% among employed and inactive persons) (Figure 4.3). Participation requirements can also come in the form of vocational rehabilitation – a system that is currently little developed in Ireland as discussed in Chapter 3. In many countries (including Australia, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland), disability benefits are not granted before having exhausted all possibilities of vocational rehabilitation.

The available empirical evidence base indicates that well-designed activation and employment policies can significantly increase the labour market integration of persons with disabilities (Carcillo and Grubb, 2006[11]; OECD, 2010[12]; European Commission, 2013[4]). For instance, evaluations of individual placement and support (IPS) policies that combine employment and health support find higher rates of obtaining competitive employment, longer job tenure and higher income for participants – persons with mostly mental difficulties (Frederick and VanderWeele, 2019[43]). Germany’s early retirement and incapacity scheme reforms were also found to contribute to the increasing employment rate of persons with disabilities (Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales, 2016[44]).

In Ireland, notably, young benefit claimants and recipients claiming non-contributory Disability Allowance should have job preparation and training participation requirements. The number of beneficiaries aged 16-19 on Disability Allowance increased by more than 50% between 2014 and 2018, more than twice as fast as the increase in recipients aged 20-65 (Figure 4.4). Currently, young adults can enter Disability Allowance at age 16 before having exhausted or even tried possibilities of (rehabilitative) training. This contrasts with practices in Denmark, where long-term disability benefits are in principle not granted before the age of 40, thus putting massive pressure on the public authorities to improve employability and find employment for young adults with disabilities (see Box 4.8).

Ireland should revive its early engagement plans for those under age 22 who transition directly from education into Disability Allowance, put on hold during the pandemic. Foregoing their interest and work ability is a costly mistake. Once again, the system lacks a coherent approach to early engagement and intervention to avoid pushing individuals who have an interest in and ability to work away from the labour market.

A last target group for PES are persons with disabilities on segregated sheltered employment with the main objective to provide bridges and supports to bring this group into the open labour market. Placing persons with disabilities in sheltered employment has long been a common practice in Ireland (OECD, 2008[23]), similar to many other OECD countries. Sheltered employment organisations are generally voluntary or community associations and provide work specifically, though not only, for persons with disabilities at the community level. Participants keep their social welfare payments and may receive a top-up payment at the discretion of the service provider. In Ireland, the Department of Health through its Health Service Executive (HSE) has responsibility for sheltered employment, which is now being phased out. The Comprehensive Employment Strategy 2015-24 envisions shutting down the Irish sheltered employment sector, in order to transition the participants into the open labour market.

Across OECD countries, sheltered employment has been found to be a tool for segregation, not one for inclusion, and progression into the open labour market has generally been very low (OECD, 2010[12]). The developments in Ireland to close sheltered workshops are therefore welcome and also align with the objectives of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilites, which Ireland ratified in 2018. The New Directions day services model, in which persons are offered individualised supports in integrated settings, piloted in 2016, seem promising. Ireland should push for proper labour market integration of these participants (Lydon, D’Eath and Heary, 2018[49]). Intreo and its specialised EmployAbility support service seem well equipped to play a key role. New Directions has also supported the deferral of adult service day places so that young people with disabilities can access mainstream further education options. This gives school leavers the opportunity to access and explore the suitability of mainstream progression options before deciding on taking an adult day service place. However, the path to the abolition of sheltered employment is not easy. Trends in data for persons with intellectual disabilities, who form more than three-quarters of the total population availing of HSE services, suggest an increase in segregated service attendance. There are also indications that sheltered workshops have renamed themselves to fall under “Activation Centres”, which are still segregated and may involve activities that participants have not chosen to do (May-Simera, 2018[50]).

Employers from both the private and public sector play a key role in promoting the employment of persons with disabilities. The engagement with employers is central to the matching, placement and retention success of the PES for jobseeker clients in general and for the inclusion of persons with disabilities more specifically. A study by Egger and Lenz (2006[51]) identifies contacts with employers by all job counsellors as having a positive impact on employment outcome and Frolich (2007[52]) finds a positive impact on employment rates in PES offices where the staff have good relationships with employers and, in particular, know employer needs and rapidly react to vacancies. Good employer relations are also vital if PES are to play a greater role in matching skills supply and demand and managing career changes across the lifecycle (WAPES-IDB-OECD, 2016[2]).

In a number of countries, PES have expanded their services to employers. This may include policies to support vacancy intake and registration, information to employers about available active labour market programmes, pre-selecting jobseekers for interviews with employers, offering legal advice, information sessions or job fairs, wage subsidies and quotas (OECD, 2015[53]; European Commission, 2013[4]).

Nevertheless, in many countries, PES systems still struggle with low visibility and trust among employers, which presents an overriding challenge to the services credibility and impact, and which negatively affects the inclusion of vulnerable groups in the labour market. Evidence from a study across European countries suggests that employers are often reluctant to use PES to source candidates, among other things due to a belief that PES staff are not necessarily motivated to recommend jobseekers in the best interest of the employer (Larsen and Vesan, 2012[54]). The relatively low share of vacancies in which the PES is involved in some countries may reflect these negative perceptions of PES by employers (Larsen and Vesan, 2012[54]; OECD, 2015[53]). Instead, employers make use of other recruitment channels such as a waiting list, direct application, contact through the employers’ current networks, private employment agencies or other contacts in the sector (Oberholzner, 2018[55]).

The Irish PES system includes a range of measures to promote the employment of persons with disabilities through stronger employer engagement. This includes the establishment of the centralised Key Account Managers team and the local Employer Relations Managers working in Intreo offices across the country (see Box 4.9). It also includes the JobsIreland.ie webpage, which is a free job advertising service to employers and a place where job seekers can search for jobs and create a profile to match their skills and experience with available jobs. Many of these measures are largely guided by the Irish Employer Relations Strategy 2017-20 (targeted to all jobseekers) and the Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with Disability 2015-24 (targeted to persons with disabilities). The different Irish programmes and services to support employer engagement differ in their target groups and the aim of the service. Table 4.8 gives a non-exhaustive overview of some of the measures in Ireland.

Preliminary data from a recent survey on employer engagement suggests that employers in Ireland are both aware of and relatively satisfied with the PES services available for them (see Box 4.10). In the same vein, the 2018 evaluation of EmployAbility showed that its services for employers are well perceived by employers and employer organisations. Results from the 2018 evaluation showed that a large majority (more than 90%) of employers responding to the survey (a total of 696) either strongly agreed or agreed that the service delivered on their overall expectations. Moreover, a very high proportion of employers agreed or strongly agreed that Employability enabled their organisation to play a role in supporting persons with disabilities (97.9%) and that it made it easier for their organisation to support the transition of persons with disabilities into their own workforce (93.9%) (Lavelle and Callaghan, 2018[20]).

Despite good evaluations of existing PES services to engage employers, the low employment rate for persons with disabilities in Ireland and the low take-up rate of several of the programmes in place indicate that the system face significant challenges – including with misperceptions and a lack of awareness.

Despite significant improvements within recent years, in some countries, disability and employment is still to a large extent viewed as incompatible and the costs of including persons with disabilities in the workplace as high. The support for persons with disability or sickness starting or re-starting a job is often regarded by employers as costly and inefficient, and often employers lack an accurate perception about the kind of jobs that are suitable for workers with disabilities and may not recognise opportunities for creating such positions (Stone and Colella, 1996[57]; Hernandez, Keys and Balcazar, 2000[58]; Ren, Paetzold and Colella, 2008[59]). In addition, while evidence across countries show that generally speaking, people with disabilities regard the importance of work very highly, they are often portrayed by employers as less capable or skilled and less willing to be part of the labour force (Erickson et al., 2014[60]). This is also largely the case in Ireland, where there is still a widespread viewpoint that persons with disabilities are better off on public support and employers are better off not employing persons with disabilities. These perceptions are reflected in the reality of hiring practices, where many employers claim to have never recruited a person with disabilities despite the high prevalence of disability in the working age population (see Chapter 2). Discrimination of persons with disabilities is a concern in Ireland. About a fourth of persons with disabilities felt discriminated in the last two years according to the 2019 Equality and Discrimination Survey. More than a third of public queries related to the Irish Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in 2019 were disability related (The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, 2020[61]).

To overcome challenges with misperceptions and discrimination, it is of great importance that PES invests in employer outreach and awareness programmes to engage with and inform employers of the benefits of employing persons with disabilities, overcoming misperceptions about their ability and will to work and informing about the different available support measures that the system have to offer. Employers must always have a place where they can get advice easily and at no cost, and governments must reach out to employers actively through the PES system to provide information and dispel employer fears and worries. This includes systematic information to employers about the real costs for workplace adjustments and the support they can get before, during and after hiring persons with disabilities. It may also include making the business case of hiring persons with disabilities and identifying “employer champions” who hire persons with disabilities and can be an inspiration for other businesses in the community. Examples of interesting outreach and awareness raising policies are fund among others in Slovenia and Germany (see Box 4.11).

The Department of Social Protection in Ireland has taken some steps to improve employer awareness in the past few years not least through the implementation of the central Key Account Managers Team (KAMs) and the decentralised Employer Relations Teams (see Box 4.9). As part of their work with employers to fill their recruitment needs, the Employer Relations Teams around the country promote the use of the Disability Wage Subsidy Scheme, the Reasonable Accommodation Fund and JobsPlus to encourage businesses to consider providing a work place opportunity for a person with a disability. In addition, as part of the Employer Relation Strategy, a Staff Development Unit in the Department for Social Protection provide training for personnel. The unit, in collaboration with the National College of Ireland has developed a Certificate in Professional Practice in Employability Service, which includes a four day module on “Engaging with and Supporting Enterprises” (European Commission, 2018[56]).

Yet, the reach and resources of the outreach function have remained rather minimal when it comes to persons with disabilities. To fill this gap, in 2016 the Employer Disability Information (EDI) service was introduced on a pilot basis as a peer-to-peer service through which employers can obtain the information they need in recruiting and retaining workers with disabilities. However, the service remained small and its funding ended after only a few years. In particular, the service lacked the resources needed to reach small and medium-sized enterprises in which the majority of workers in Ireland work. A new service, Employers for Change, was introduced in March 2021, with a similar objective of providing an effective peer-to-peer service for employers. At this moment, it is too early to tell where the journey will go. Similar to the EDI about five years ago, Employers for Change is starting with advance praise and a strong web presence, and with considerable enthusiasm and hope for a change to the better. The litmus test will be the extent to which this service will be able to grow from a Dublin-based initiative to a nationwide service, and from supporting a small number of large companies to supporting a large number of small companies. The success of the service will depend predominantly on the amount of resources attached to it: with the current budget of EUR 150 000 per annum, its impact ought to be limited.

Looking beyond challenges with misperceptions, discrimination and a lack of awareness, employers in Ireland and other countries also report challenges in attracting and recruiting qualified persons with disabilities, including how to create the right job profiles for candidates with disabilities and give them the right conditions during the recruitment process and to undertake their work in the company.

As described in a recent study by the American Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability (EARN) there are numerous strategies which employers may use to attract and recruit qualified persons with disabilities and to facilitate the hiring, retention and advancement of this groups of workers. Strategies include establishing formal arrangements for referral of applications with representatives from recruitment services (including PES), establishing formal training on how and why to hire persons with disabilities, providing an accessible online application and using targeted recruitment and social networking sites for persons with disabilities to learn about the company. Strategies to facilitate hiring may include sharing the process for requesting reasonable accommodations for the application and interview process and clearly identifying essential functions and tasks of the job in the job advertisement rather than specific methods to perform them (Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion, 2021[63]). PES can help in numerous ways to facilitate these practices (see Box 4.12).

Work customisation, especially job carving and job crafting can be effective strategies to overcome the challenges of labour market (re)integration of jobseekers with disabilities and to keep workers employed by creating meaningful and productive employment. Job carving and job crafting (also discussed under headings such as job design, job enrichment and work customisation) aim to match the needs of businesses with the talent, needs and interests of the individual (Scoppetta, Davern and Geyer, 2019[65]). Job carving refers to the practice of rearranging work tasks within a company to create tailor-made employment opportunities especially for people with reduced work capacity or who for other reasons are constrained in the tasks they can carry out. It is a top-down process driven by management to adapt tasks, processes or workplaces to employees or jobseekers. Job crafting refers to a specific form of workplace innovation where employees design their tasks and work processes themselves. Contrary to job crafting, it is a bottom-up process driven by and targeted to employees (Ibid.)

Work customisation strategies may help persons with disabilities to enter employment and PES may support employers in their efforts to use these strategies. Employers can benefit from their help to redesign available jobs so to make them more accessible to persons with disabilities while at the same time having a look to increasing productivity, identifying unmet needs in the workplace, increase customer satisfaction and better reflecting the existing diversity in their community (Scoppetta, Davern and Geyer, 2019[65]). A number of studies have identified success factors for work customisation such as the level of professional skill support (Griffin, Hammis and Geary, 2007[69]), good and uninterrupted relations between job carving consultants and employers, successful collaboration between supporting actors (Fesko et al., 2008[70]) and ongoing support for disadvantaged jobseekers who found employment (Nicholas, Luecking and Luecking, 2006[71]). All this points to the role of PES as a key actor working effectively and simultaneously with jobseekers and employers to address their mutual goals and needs. PES also play a role when it comes to avoiding potential negative effects of work customisation including the prevalence of negative stereotypes or the downgrading of salaries (Scoppetta, Davern and Geyer, 2019[65]).

Another key element in the engagement of employers are measures to increase the incentives of employers to employ persons with disabilities. This may include targeted wage subsidies, financial compensation for workplace adjustments, quotas and trial periods. The Irish PES system includes a number of measures to increase the incentives of employers to employ persons with disabilities, including the Wage Subsidy Schemes, the JobPlus Scheme and the Employee Retention Grant Scheme (see Table 4.8 for an overview). The following discussion focuses on the Wage Subsidy Scheme.

Wage subsidies are an active labour market policy that reduce the cost of hiring or retaining a worker with a certain disadvantage in an attempt to increase demand for these workers in the open labour market. Wage subsidies targeted to persons with disabilities are generally justified to compensate for lower productivity levels due to reduced work capacity or for larger uncertainties that employers may have about the jobseekers’ competences. However, such subsidies may worsen labour market outcomes if they play a stigmatising role by signalling lower work capacity. Wage subsidies targeting persons with disabilities are widespread among European OECD jurisdictions, including in Austria, Flanders (Belgium), Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

The empirical evidence on the effectiveness of private sector wage subsidies indicates that they generally increase employment, though net job creation may be limited (Card, Kluve and Weber, 2018[72]; Brown and Koettl, 2015[73]). Four factors play a role in limiting net job creation. First, the wage subsidy may pay for a job that would have been created in any case (deadweight loss). Second, workers hired through the wage subsidy programme may crowd out jobseekers not covered by the programme who would otherwise have been hired (substitution effect). Third, employers who do not use the wage subsidy scheme may be less profitable and therefore lose market share to those who use the scheme, leading to a shift of employment away from employers not using to those who do. Fourth, taxes necessary to fund the scheme can lower total hiring in the economy, although the subsidy scheme may lower public spending on benefits (Borland, 2016[74]). Causal evaluations of wage subsidies targeted to persons with disabilities suggest that they can increase employment, although the broader policy landscape plays an important role (see Box 4.13).

The Irish Wage Subsidy Scheme offers firms a fixed hourly subsidy of EUR 5.30 per hour for a position of 21 hours per week or more for a contract with at least 6 month duration.9 The employee must be offered the same rights and conditions of employment as any other employee in a similar position. The individual when applying has to be at least 18 years, and either be on one of the disability, sickness or workers’ compensation benefits or has medical proof confirming that disability causes a productivity shortfall of at least 20%. The subsidy is only available for employees under 12 months in the job, and therefore is designed to increase hiring rather than retaining. Firms can avail of the subsidy for an unlimited duration. Each year, the employer and employee must complete a productivity assessment that certifies the employee’s productivity deficit. A DSP case officer may carry out a more in-depth review.

Overall, Ireland’s Wage Subsidy Scheme seems fairly healthy. It provides generous funding and focuses on those groups that likely need it most. As the subsidy is only available for new hires or employees with less than one year tenure, it is not likely to increase retention. However, allowing longer tenured staff to avail of the programme risks encouraging firms to transform existing into subsidised jobs (OECD, 2010[12]). Ireland may consider to target the system better to the needs of employer and employee, whilst at the same time keeping costs under control. First, the system could accommodate better the preferences and constraints of persons with disabilities by also allowing shorter or reduced-hour contracts to avail of the scheme. Second, Ireland could perform reassessments more structurally, in particular given the unlimited duration of the programme. A person’s work capacity might well change over time. Such reassessments should be capacity-oriented and spell out possibilities to further increase productivity, with fixed milestones and dates. The PES in Sweden and Luxembourg for instance determine eligibility at regular intervals. Another possibility is to allow the benefit to gradually taper off over time.

A key issue in increasing the effectiveness of the Irish Wage Subsidy Scheme is to stimulate its use by increasing awareness. In Ireland, about 2 700 recipients availed of the scheme in 2019, compared to 2 100 in 2015. The limited survey among 250 companies conducted by the Employer Disability Information found that only about one in four companies is aware of the scheme (EDI, 2018[75]). Intreo has an important role to play in disseminating the existence of the subsidy among all parties.

It is a conundrum that the take-up of promising employer supports, including the Wage Subsidy Scheme but also all other employer support programmes (and for that matter all employee supports as well), is so low in Ireland. Neither continuous improvements of the available measures nor the above-mentioned introduction by Intreo of Key Account Managers (as a contact point for large employers) and Employer Relations Managers (as points of contact for employers with under 250 employees) have been able to change this situation very much. It appears that there are still unsurmountable obstacles for employers to turn to the PES in an attempt to hire or retain workers with disabilities.

Through a special survey fielded in March/April 2021 with the help of Chambers Ireland and Ibec, the authors of this report attempted to investigate the reasons for this low take-up of public supports. The number of responses to this survey were low (51 complete and 91 partial responses), not least because the timing for such a survey was difficult at a moment when job offers were low and many businesses were busy securing their survival, but the distribution across industries and firm size reflected the Irish situation. Nevertheless, the findings of this certainly non-representative exercise are illustrative. First, it appears that the large majority of employers are not sufficiently aware of the public supports available to them, in this case measured as their knowledge about the Reasonable Accommodation Fund (Figure 4.5, Panel A). At the same time, as many as two in three respondents have never been advised on how to better integrate workers with disabilities but would want to know more about these supports (Figure 4.5, Panel B). The Disability Awareness Support Scheme is available to companies, but only 28 applications were granted between 2012 and 2018. Awareness of this support scheme itself seems very low among firms (NDA, 2019[28]). Significant additional efforts are needed to raise the awareness about public supports in a way that reaches and is meaningful to employers, and to make these supports easy to access and to maintain. The type of support that would encourage employers to hire persons presenting with a disability and which they think the government should provide, varies considerably across respondents and includes everything that Ireland has to offer already (Figure 4.5, Panel C and D). The answers also suggest that the introduction of the Employer Disability Information service a few years ago and its recent successor, Employers for Change, is the right approach: employers are more likely to make use of a peer-to-peer service which, however, must be designed and resourced in a way that it can support all employers, including small and medium-sized enterprises. Not very surprisingly, additional obligations (such as e.g. monitoring of wage rates of workers with disabilities) are less popular with employers but this should not stop the government from thinking about such measures: higher obligations are in fact likely to stimulate the take-up of all other types of supports.

The special survey also provides some hints about additional underlying reasons for the low take-up of employer supports. Only 30% of the respondents claim to have hired an applicant with a disability in the past two years (Figure 4.6, Panel B) and many employers are simply not aware of whether or not they have any persons with disabilities among their staff or their recent recruits (Figure 4.6, Panel A and B). Under such circumstances they are unlikely to consider applying for any supports. Results also indicate that if they hired a person presenting with a disability, it was because the person was the best applicant (Figure 4.6, Panel C) who were hired without any accommodation of their workplace (not shown); and if they did not hire someone presenting with a disability, it typically was because there was no such applicant (Figure 4.6, Panel D). On both questions, however, a large share of respondents refused the answer, again not least because they were not aware of whether or not a disability was involved. This suggests that employers are simply looking for the best candidate for their job, which is hardly surprising. Employer supports must take this into account and seek, first and foremost, to enable workers with disabilities to compete successfully in the labour market.

Finally, about 30% of all respondents said they would consider hiring a person with a disability plus another 10% with certain restrictions on the type of disability (Figure 4.6, Panel E); conversely, a majority would not consider hiring persons with disabilities. On the other hand, a large majority of employers would consider retaining a worker acquiring a disability (Figure 4.6, Panel F), even if reasonable accommodation would be involved. This is encouraging and can be seen as another indication that job retention policies (discussed in Chapter 3) have a higher chance of success than policies targeting new hires.

A slightly larger survey run around the same time in spring 2021 by AHEAD, an non-profit organisation working to create inclusive environments in education and employment for people with disabilities, corroborates some of these illustrative findings, including the non-awereness of many companies of the availability of public supports such as the Reasonable Accommodation Fund (AHEAD, 2021[81]). The survey, however, also draws a number of promising additional conclusions, many of which admittedly restricted to larger companies. First, about three in four large companies have an inclusion and diversity strategy and most of these strategies (79%) include a special focus on persons with disabilities. Secondly, two in three of the responding companies provide disability awareness training although in a majority of cases only occasionally. This is a huge increase compared with only one in four companies that have provided such training according to the last comparable survey, also run by AHEAD, in 2008. A third and particularly important finding from the AHEAD survey is that also today a majority of companies places a responsibility on job applicants (university graduates, in the case of this survey) to disclose their disability in the recruitment process. The share expecting so has fallen since 2008. Yet, at the same time a higher share than in the earlier survey (56% in 2021 compared to 29% in 2008) is now expecting disclosure prior to any job offer, i.e. in the job application or during a pre-interview. While there can be strong arguments for disclosure, e.g. early disclosure allows for immediate accommodation measures even in the recruitment process, such an expectation is putting considerable pressure on applicants with disability many of who will have experienced discrimination and other disadvantages in the labour market and will understandably hesitate to disclose their disability at such an early stage.

In parallel with the broadening of the role and responsibilities of PES, the landscape of PES delivery has become more diversified. In a growing number of countries, PES are increasingly collaborating with a range of actors, including local and regional authorities, government departments, employers and employers’ organisations, NGOs, social economy actors, training institutions, and trade unions. Such local partnerships and joined-up approaches to the delivery of public employment services are important not least if PES are to play a broader role in contributing to local economic growth and in boosting the quantity and quality of jobs through the better matching of skills supply and demand (OECD, 2015[1]). They can also play an important role in supporting persons with disabilities in getting into employment.

Ireland has a strong third sector that is highly represented among other things in employment policies. A number of NGOs and social economy actors operate in this area. A good example hereof is the National Learning Network (see Box 4.14). In addition, Ireland also has good examples of how employers engage in the employment support for persons with disabilities through the creation of initiatives such as the Willing Able Mentoring (WAM) programme and the Open Doors to Work initiative (see Box 4.15)

While Ireland is good at engaging non-government actors in the delivery of employment supports for persons with disabilities, there seems to be possibility for further improvement of the overall governance structure hereof so to develop more comprehensive and sustainable local partnerships and ecosystems that can ensure coherent support approaches at local level. Government mechanism play a key role in facilitating joined-up efforts between the PES and local actors, and a number of countries such as Germany, the United States, Korea and Canada have created local governing boards that involve businesses, economic development and education professionals to support collaboration and build horizontal accountability (OECD, 2015[1]). These boards often have an advisory and supporting role in stimulating local economic development and employment. In addition, some countries have sought to support local collaborations between PES and other local actors by providing more flexibility locally in the management of labour market policies and programmes. This may be either in the form of operational flexibility (i.e. flexibility to decide which type of policy intervention to use in a particular situation) or strategic flexibility (i.e. flexibility to adjust programmes and policies to local labour market priorities agreed jointly with other stakeholders) (Giguère and Froy, 2009[84]). Inspiring examples of multi-stakeholder engagement in employment policies are found, among others, in Australia and Malta (see Box 4.16).

As part of the transition of PES to “intermediation services” between employment, economic development, education and training actors, PES have become more dependent on the active co-operation and co-ordination with other public authorities. Already today, many public employment services – including Intreo in Ireland – are delivered in “one-stop-shops” where brokerage, active labour market programmes, and the administration of unemployment benefits are integrated in a sort of multi-service agency often with a single location for assessment and services (Munday, 2007[85]; Minas, 2014[86]). The objective of these legal, organisational and administrative arrangements are to enable PES to handle service delivery in a more coherent and holistic way to the benefit of individuals, caseworkers and the wider society. Integrated service delivery may improve access to and the quality of service delivery and the effectiveness and efficiency of services resulting in long-term budget savings (OECD, 2015[87]).

While “one-stop-shops” for public employment services are an important step toward more coherent and holistic service delivery, PES must also seek to co-ordinate service delivery with other public authorities working in fields such as education, health, social, housing and child care, so to address the multiple challenges and barriers faced by those furthest from the labour market. This is especially important for those client groups, including some persons with disabilities, who have complex needs and require multiple services beyond the remits of PES to be included in the labour market. Yet, different public authorities and institutions, especially in the health, social and employment areas, often operate in isolation and in pursuit of their own objectives resulting in fragmented services for those groups who face multiple disadvantages that cut across different policy areas (OECD, 2015[87]). Across countries, public employment services are exploring new ways of providing co-ordinated services across several policy areas (see Box 4.17).

Despite these efforts, integration of services for persons with disabilities is lacking in many countries, and as result hereof, PES often have little capacity to identify and support individuals with complex health needs. A lack of information on the health and social status of jobseekers or unemployment and social assistance recipients hinders their ability to take preventative measures and intervene early in the process and the professionals often lack in-depth expertise on or knowledge about available support services beyond the PES system. Acknowledging these issues, some countries have started to share expertise on disability employment with other institutions like social services, health services or specialised training and coaching entities to commonly profile, advice and place persons with disabilities into jobs and support the transition from education to work for youth with health problems or disabilities. Examples of integrated services for the activation of youth with mental health concerns are found in a number of countries, including Finland and Australia (see Box 4.18).

A key example of integrated services is the Irish version of the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) programme for persons with mental health conditions. IPS is an evidence-based approach to supported employment for people who have an enduring mental health difficulty, which is used in several countries including the United Kingdom and Australia. IPS supports people in their efforts to achieve steady employment in mainstream competitive jobs, either part-time or full-time based on individual preferences. The programme integrates employment services and mental health programmes by introducing mental health co-ordinators into local PES centres and it is based on a “can do approach” (i.e. a belief that employment is possible to achieve) and a “place, then train approach” (i.e. focus on helping people to get a job as quickly as possible). International evidence shows that IPS programmes are successful in getting people with mental health conditions into work and to improve mental health (KPMG, 2020[91]).

In Ireland, the main criteria for people wanting to participate in the IPS programme is a genuine desire and motivation to seek employment. Through the IPS programme an individual’s personal interests, strengths, skills and experience are explored with an IPS employment specialist who is embedded within the local mental health team. Moreover, with the trials outsourced to employment providers but funded by the Department of Health, not the PES, IPS demonstrates the critical importance of strong co-operation across government departments and agencies. IPS is being rolled out across Ireland and demand for the service is high. Yet, so far it only reaches a limited number of individuals not least due to limited financial means. Moreover, while IPS has shown repeatedly to facilitate transitions into employment, it will also be important to sustain these jobs and facilitate career progression. These issues should be taken into account in the ongoing evaluation of the IPS programme.


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← 1. Early intervention is recognised as a key policy principle in Strategic Priority 4: Promote job retention and re-entry to work of the Comprehensive Employment Strategy (CES) for People with Disabilities 2015-24.

← 2. The SOLAS data are collected from the registration form that all learners complete before starting any provision in further education and training. It is not compulsory to provide this information and it is a self-declaration. This group is broader than the group of persons with disabilities, as no question is asked whether the lasting health problem limits their daily activities. On the other hand, it may be that learners do not disclose whether they have a lasting health problem, which would lead to underestimation of their participation. See Chapter 3 for more detail. Information on the number of employed, unemployed persons and inactive persons (with disabilities) come from Labour Force Survey 2019q2 tabulations, provided by Jim Dalton from CSO. There may be differences in measurement between nominator and denominator. There may also be double counting; for instance, a person may enrol into more than one programme in a year.

← 3. Employment is defined by the service as paid employment of at least eight hours per week, which may include formal work experience as well as employment in the open labour market and employment may be part-time or full-time employment, and temporary as well as permanent.

← 4. As told by employees from the Department of Social Protection. Unfortunately, detailed figures are not available.

← 5. Data on outflow of Invalidity Pension are not available.

← 6. This analysis is restricted to persons receiving Disability Allowance before 2013. Comparable levels are obtained when analysing recipients in January 2018 who were in receipt of Disability Allowance before 2016.

← 7. Individuals exiting Disability Allowance to take up paid work can keep their Medical Card for three years. The Make Work Pay report came with a number of other minor improvements. Persons can keep their free travel pass for as long as they qualify for Disability Allowance and for five years if they no longer qualify when moving into employment. Moreover, a fast-track return to Disability Allowance is in place in case employment does not work out. The Irish Government has also made efforts to communicate better the income impact of taking up work by creating an online Benefit of Work estimator (DSP, 2017[42]).

← 8. About 40% of Partial Capacity Benefit recipients in February 2021 came from Illness Benefit and the rest from Invalidity Pension (numbers received from the Department of Social Protection).

← 9. Firms that hire more persons with disabilities may receive a top-up.

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