Some people (having lives) spend their weekends doing fun stuff. Others, old, boring and friendless, spend their spare time checking out stuff that interests them professionally.
I have a particular interest in the employment of people with disability and this includes asking the fundamental question as to whether 1: they are worth hiring; and 2: whether their labour requires subsidy.
I believe that the answers (in order) are ‘yes’ and ‘no’
So a paper by Erik Samoy and Lina Waterplas; “Designing wage subsidies for people with disabilities, as exemplified by the case of Flanders (Belgium)” caught my attention.
On hiring people with disability:
“An interesting finding is that 34% of hiring employers declared that the outcome exceeded their expectations, the main reasons being that the worker performed better than expected and had a positive influence on the work of colleagues, and sick leave was lower than expected”.
This fits with my world view and with my firm belief that provided a good match between aspiration, ability and opportunity occurs is achieved, the contribution of workers who have a disability will often exceed that of their non-disabled peers.
The paper referenced above specifically looks at whether wage subsidy works and if that’s the case, what the scheme should look like.
Let’s look at the present situation in Australia:
1. Generous subsidies are available
2. The market for Disability Employment Service providers is cut throat with an oft repeated theme from the funding body: perform or lose market share/contract.
3. A ‘for profit’ component has been introduced
4. The ‘compliance’ framework has been strengthened (+risk of losing benefits)
Does that impact upon people with disability?
I believe that it crterates an environment in which subsidised employment, set for minimum funding body requirements (8hrs a week X 26 weeks) becomes the norm. This is not in the interests of people with disability.
In the reference cited above (I note this is NOT an Australian study) employers are clearly happy – however, that happiness in not universal:
“Although employees were happy to be in work, it was found that they often held low paid and low-skilled odd jobs for which they were sometimes overqualified. Interviewees reported negative consequences on their self-esteem and relationship with colleagues, loss of entitlement to unemployment benefits and conflicts over pay rate. The author concludes that scheme participants rather held the status of social clients than of employees and were in danger of being marginalised within employment”. Hohnen (2001)
In other words, workers with disability are stigmatised by the practice of discounting their labour.
Routinely offering subsidies as a means of inducing employers to hire creates an environment in which the product - their contribution - is seen as inferior and therefore requiring discount. This in turn reduces the range of available opportunities, leading to placement in lower skilled positions.
As I learned many years ago, subsidy money doesn’t matter: if the person can’t do the job no subsidy is sufficient and, if they can, why should the work of people with disability be discounted?
Why aren’t people with disability more frequently employed?
“The evidence suggests that price variables may be even less important for job offers to disabled people than they are in the labour market in general. Among other factors likely to influence employer’s hiring decisions, Mangan cites “uncertainty, discrimination (by themselves or in deference to other employees or customers), or economically-rational considerations of wage productivity”
So employers will be more likely to hire when they become educated about the contribution and capacity of people with disability. Workers who have a disability will be less discriminated against when their bosses and co-workers are encouraged to focus on ability.
What’s needed here is a campaign that doesn’t focus on discounting but rather on the facts that workers with disability in suitable roles are as productive as their non-disabled peers and do not place an additional burden on their employers or colleagues.
Take a look at this video and see for yourselves how disability can disappear: http://www.focusonability.com.au/FOA/films/Jamess_Story_680.html
Hohnen, P. (2001). “When work is like a gift. An analysis of new forms of exclusion on the Danish labour market”. The Open Labour Market Working Paper 11:2001. Copenhagen: The Danish National Institute of Social Research. Market Working Paper 11:2001. Copenhagen: The Danish National Institute of Social Research.
Mangan, J: 1990: Wage Subsidies for the disabled: a discussion of their impact in Australia. International Journal of Manpower,p211.
Samoy, E. & Waterplas, L: “Designing wage subsidies for people with disabilities, as exemplified by the case of Flanders (Belgium)” ALTER, European Journal of Disability Research 6 (2012) 94–109.
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