Ireland leads euro area in workforce disability and illness

Fri, Jan 25, 2013, 00:00

More Irish adults are outside the workforce owing to disability and illness than in any other of the euro area’s 17 countries, according to unpublished data obtained by The Irish Times from the EU statistics agency Eurostat.

More than one in 20 Irish adults under 60 reported having exited the jobs market owing to disability and illness in 2010. This was double the euro zone average. Since the recession began there has been a marked increase in this category.

Above average during boom

However, the figures show that even during the boom the proportion of adults under 60 not in the labour force owing to disability and illness was well above the European average.

The latest figures show that in 2011 just under a quarter of a million adults were on one of the four main disability and illness benefits. That equates to about one in 12 of the population aged 16-65.

Dr Donal De Buitléir of think tank Publicpolicy.iesaid: “It is difficult to reconcile the rapid rise in reported disability with the separate health figures showing the Irish population is among the healthiest in Europe. Further research is needed into this important issue.”

Ireland ‘clearly an outlier’

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton yesterday responded to the figures saying the Department of Social Protection would spend “over €2.5 billion on illness and disability schemes this year, separate to expenditure related to carers. This is an exceptionally large figure, and Ireland is clearly an outlier in this regard, largely because successive Fianna Fáil governments made little or no attempt to introduce meaningful welfare reforms that would help people back to work.”

During the boom a significant shift took place between the balance of numbers in receipt of unemployment benefits and those in receipt of disability and sickness benefits.

In 2007, the year before the economy went into recession, 169,000 people were on either Disability Allowance or Illness Benefit, according to the department. This represented an increase of 43 per cent in just five years. There were 162,000 people on the live register in 2007, largely unchanged on a half-decade earlier.