Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lindsay Mitchell: Report highlights the value of work

A paper was launched in Auckland yesterday by The Royal Australasian College of Physicians entitled, 'Realising the Health Benefits of Work'. The report claims that two thirds of sickness absence and long-term incapacity is due to mild and treatable conditions. This claim would help to explain why the number of people who rely on a sickness or invalid's benefit has increased dramatically over recent years. Conditions that might not have kept people from work 20 or 30 years ago are now considered grounds for claiming some form of incapacity benefit.

Post-war the number of people claiming a sickness or invalid benefit remained steady but fell as a percentage of the population (see below). However, since 1980 the numbers have risen steeply. At March 2010 there were over 140,000 people relying on a sickness or invalid benefit accounting for over 5 percent of the working-age population.

The government's Future Focus reforms, currently before select committee, will legislate changes to eligibility for sickness and invalid benefits but their proposals have already been tried in Australia and have failed to stem the growth. In the US some progress has been made with their Supplemental Security Income disability recipients now tracking in line with population growth. The US has introduced the most stringent reforms of NZ, Australia and the UK. It would pay the Welfare Working Group to investigate how this has been achieved. For instance, cash assistance to people who are incapacitated through drug or alcohol addiction is paid to a representative payee which may be a social service agency responsible for running that state's substance abuse treatment plan. The beneficiary must comply with rehabilitation programmes where available or lose payments. More generally, rather than a case manager making the decision regarding eligibility for disability assistance, an independent body - the Disability Determination Service - makes the ruling.

Work incapacity is amongst the toughest problems developed countries face and the report released today will highlight why it is vital that dependent individuals receive the assistance they need to return to or take up work.

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