On the sick

I listened to an interesting podcast yesterday on the way to Halifax. It was a BBC documentary talking about the “on the sick” trend in OECD countries. The OECD has done research that concludes that while long term unemployment has dropped significantly in the past 10-15 years, the number of people on disability or some other health-related pension has doubled and even tripled in some OECD countries. In the UK, the government now spends far more paying for people that are “on the sick” than on the dole.

The experts quoted in the piece were pretty negative about the whole thing. They basically conclude that people who are unemployable or not mobile are migrating to ‘on the sick’ pensions to generate living income. They also called this a serious social problem as there are studies that show people that don’t work over time die sooner, are more prone to depression, are more prone to poverty, etc. Essentially, NBT close your eyes and scroll over this part, they were calling for long term structural government subsidization for people like this to help them work. Apparently they are doing this with some success in the Nordic countries. The logic is that somewhere around 80% of those currently “on the sick” could work – at least certain jobs and at least some time during the week. The government would subsidize the training and wages of these people to help them become productive leading to better social outcomes.

This is a European version of the workfare programs that were rolled out across the U.S. in the 1980s and early 1990s.

I have always wondered about this in New Brunswick. I think I will take some time to do a little analysis of this for either this blog or my TJ column. I have seen that seasonal EI usage has hardly dropped in the past 10 years. I will check the workers’ comp and other disability figures and then see the results. I know that social assistance recipients in New Brunswick have dropped over the last 10 years.

The point here is not to be heavy handed. In my way of thinking a lot of structural unemployment came about when we had high unemployment rates and now that the unemployment rate is much lower, we still have significant underlying unemploment problems. And, further, I have always felt that it is a drag on the economy to have upwards of 200,000 adults (compared to an employed workforce of 350,000) either collecting EI, workers’ compensation or social assistance during the year. It seems to me that we should be looking at ways to encourage more year round employment and work for those who are able to work.