Photo: J. Maillard/ILO
Importantly for the International Social Security Association (ISSA), this year’s theme also acknowledges the growing emphasis placed by social security programmes on forward-looking and earlier interventions that can improve the lives of people with disabilities.
Specifically, social security has a number of roles to play in preventing disabilities, in preventing the aggravation of existing disabilities and in proactively supporting the rehabilitation and reintegration of persons with disabilities into the workforce and society at large.
Since the first International Day of Persons with Disabilities in 1992, expectations surrounding the roles to be played by social security programmes in addressing the need of people with disabilities have evolved. No longer is it universally accepted that cash benefits for an assessed disability be awarded, with little – indeed no – expectation that beneficiaries would ever be helped to return to the labour market.
Expectations about the roles that disabled people can play in society have evolved too. The tendency now is to focus positively on the remaining assessed capacity of disabled persons to work, rather than to evaluate the extent of the incapacity only.
As a consequence, many social security systems have modernized the design and administration of disability benefit programmes, with an increasing emphasis on a client-centred case-work approach to support the training, rehabilitation, employability and empowerment of disability beneficiaries.
Experience shows that early intervention to prevent persons with an assessed disability from leaving the workforce completely – or to reintegrate people into work as soon as possible after leaving to receive disability benefit – is more effective than interventions targeted upon long-term benefit recipients. However, the interaction of disability benefits provision with other social security benefits needs to be considered carefully on a case-by-case basis to ensure that, when appropriate, there are no disincentives to return or remain in work.
But further changes are still required.
This need is underlined by high and growing numbers of disability benefit recipients in many countries, low employment levels among people with disabilities, and changes in the nature and rates of disability across population groups, with an increasing incidence of mental health problems and younger workers increasingly affected.
In turn, population ageing presents additional challenges. For nearly all pathologies, ageing and the incidence of disability are positively correlated. Thus, population ageing brings challenges to disability programmes and labour markets, with likely higher demands for benefits and medical care and potential skill shortages in some sectors of the economy.
For public policy, the design and delivery challenge remains one of putting in place integrated and appropriate measures to support people with disabilities, to facilitate changes in workplace design, to support employers to retain and offer employment to people with disabilities, and to support social security programmes in implementing sustainable and effective disability benefits programmes and return to work and rehabilitation policies.
“Ultimately, the goal is to create a win-win situation for all involved”, underlines ISSA Secretary General, Hans-Horst Konkolewsky.
The aim is see individuals with an assessed disability receive early support to help them remain in or return to work, while the proactive design of social security programmes can encourage employers to retain skilled members of their workforce. And by reducing the need for benefits and in seeking to support increased labour force productivity, the finances of social security programmes should be strengthened.
Through the work of the ISSA Technical and Special Commissions and member organisations, and through international collaboration with partners such as Rehabilitation International and the International Disability Management Standards Council , the ISSA is identifying administrative good practices which support social security organizations’ aims to better manage disability benefit programmes and put in place appropriate measures to support rehabilitation and reintegration, which for many individuals will mean the ability to return to work.
The epidemiological transition underway in many countries, seeing a rise in chronic non-communicable disease, illustrates the dynamic nature of disability in society. Presently, this is shown by the manner in which the global crisis, for example, has provoked an increase in mental health issues. Consequently, it is only natural that there be a need for disability benefits programmes to evolve. Positively, social security organizations have demonstrated that they can adapt to new challenges and, with the support of the ISSA, can continue to develop the tools necessary to anticipate and mitigate evolving and future challenges for disability benefits and other programmes.