NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Subsidizing the Healthy but Disabled

June 15, 1999

People in the rich, industrialized world have reportedly never been healthier -- eating better and exercising more. So why are more and more people getting disability payments?

  • Thirteen percent of the working age population of the Netherlands claims to be disabled.
  • In Britain, almost half the people of working age who claim a welfare benefit are receiving money for being disabled or sick -- and one man in four age 60 to 65 claims a benefit for being incapacitated.
  • In Norway, more than 57 percent of people between 55 and 64 are registered as disabled.

Some experts report that the seeming conflict between increasing health and increasing disability involves a dirty little secret: disability payments are actually unemployment insurance in disguise.

Some governments have encouraged older workers to claim to be disabled by obliging doctors to consider the state of the job market when deciding whether a patient should be registered as disabled. Germany, Italy and Finland all reportedly make access to disability benefits easier when unemployment is high.

Tightening up eligibility rules is politically tricky, however. Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair generated a furious revolt when he recently tried to do so. In the Netherlands, a tougher government line on physical disability encouraged more people to claim mental disability.

To discourage disability fraud, it has been proposed to reward those who continue to work into late middle age with extra pension benefits.

Source: "Down With Disablement," Economist, May 22, 1999.


Browse more articles on International Issues