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Sickness, Disability and Work: Breaking the Barriers (Vol. 2)

Australia, Luxembourg, Spain and the United Kingdom

image of Sickness, Disability and Work: Breaking the Barriers (Vol. 2)
Too many workers leave the labour market permanently due to health problems, and yet too many people with a disabling condition are denied the opportunity to work. This second report in the OECD series Sickness, Disability and Work explores the possible factors behind this paradox. It looks specifically at the cases of Australia, Luxembourg, Spain and the United Kingdom, and highlights the roles of institutions and policies. A range of reform recommendations is put forward to deal with specific challenges facing the four countries.

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Absence Monitoring and Assessment of Disability

Disability benefit recipiency in most cases is a permanent status from which there is little movement back into employment. This is why policies aim, and should aim, to reduce the inflow into such benefits. For this to be effective, it is important to intervene in the early phase of a health condition to avoid that it develops into a more serious problem, eventually leading to a disability benefit claim. This in turn requires comprehensive evidence on the pathways into disability, but such evidence is scarce and partial. It is vital to better identify and assist people with health problems, be it at work, during a sickness absence spell or during unemployment. Spain and Luxembourg are two good-practice examples with regard to sickness absence monitoring. Such early monitoring is lacking in Australia and the United Kingdom, but these two countries are in the process of developing their disability assessment into a strong work capacity assessment tool. In addition, Australia is now better able to discover health-related work barriers of the unemployed, a key issue when so many people are switching from unemployment onto disability. This is also important because the recent tightening of eligibility criteria for people with partially-reduced work capacity, who are now pushed onto unemployment benefits, can only help achieving better outcomes if good services and support systems are in place. The example of Luxembourg shows that such an approach can indeed reduce disability benefit dependency and improve work retention, but also that structural unemployment is likely to increase as well.

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