The High Cost of Unemployment of Disabled Workers

Human and Social Factors

Having a disability, both in industrialized and third world economies, significantly increases the likelihood of living in poverty. In a study of 47 cities in Canada, it was identified that the poverty rate among people with disabilities was 1.5 times the rate of people without disabilities. The report also noted that a lack of access to supportive workplace accommodations often prevents people with disabilities from reaching their full work potential, and some employers may discriminate by not hiring people with disabilities or not considering them for job promotion.

This means poverty not only for individual disabled persons but for families. The data are clear that children living in poverty have a far greater probability of being poor adults. Consequently, the impact of growing up in these families is inter-generational poverty.

There is also a high human cost in terms of the psychological and social well being of disabled persons who are not participating in the paid labour force. Depression and low self-esteem have long been shown to be by-products of unemployment. Such negative indicators for well-being and satisfaction with life are exacerbated and more acutely felt among the unemployed disabled population.

The Economic Case

While there is a strong humane case to be made for reintegrating disabled persons into the workforce, there is also a strong economic case. Disabilities cost money. There are economic costs to the state, to the taxpayer and to the businesses and workplaces in which workers are injured. In 2000, it was estimated that in 15 European Union countries alone, occupational accidents cost €55 billion per annum.

Internationally, the data are compelling. According to the ILO, industrial accidents cost $1.25 trillion U.S. per annum to employers, workers and society. This amounts to four percent of the global GDP.

In Canada, the total cost of workers compensation is approximately $7 billion per annum with a total cost of employer payroll deductions for workers compensation, short-term and long-term disability of approximately $14 billion annually. Given that there is less than a one percent annual hiring rate for people with disabilities in Canada, the situation is unacceptable on social, human and economic grounds.