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.

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0 Responses to On the sick

  1. mikel says:

    Aren’t podcasts great, you can learn more in an hour than from yawning through three books. Unfortunately, my crappy ipod crapped out on my and Apple won’t honour their warranty! And NBT wonders why people don’t trust corporations any more than government!

    Anyway, the nordic countries do FAR more than ‘encourage’ specific types of work-they LEGISLATE it. In Norway, the theory is simple-if you want our oil then here’s what it costs you.

    More importantly though, proportional representation ensures that the government actually is tailored to their society,not just one sector of it. In other words, the government actually looks out for the well being of the entire society, and that means a heavy reliance on ‘social welfare’ since its well known that its those at the bottom of the economic food chain that need ‘help’ the most.

    In New Brunswick it IS a serious problem. However, you have to remember that Canada’s ‘system’ (or lack of) dealt with the problem of high unemployment with the creation of low wage jobs. THere’s a reason why the poor are now WORKING. THere’s a reason why the needs of low income housing are now aimed at workers. When I lived in Fredericton I don’t remember ever seeing a poor person looking for a handout on the streets, and I hung around downtown ALL the time, especially at night.

    So the problem is far more endemic that the figures suggest. For welfare, I had this debate with NBT’s alter ego on facebook, who was griping endlessly about the ‘deadbeats on welfare’. Of course he was talking about welfare problems of twenty and thirty years ago, and only a few cases. NB’s welfare rate has dropped by more than half in over a decade. The figures are easy to find, GNB has the monthly welfare stats each month and convenient little topics of interest that virtually NEVER make it to the paper.

    For example, one of the main reasons people get disability is because they are hurt on the job. THat’s an industry problem due to lax regulation and enforcment. That is also a ‘perk’ that NB is probably spouting, sort of like the way Reagan told corporations in the eighties that they simply werent’ going to prosecute labour and environmental offences.

    But welfare is by and large people that can’t work, as well as ‘transitional’ people, which is also largely an industry problem, though the old attitudes will still say that it’s the people themselves.

    Unemployment is a different story, but once again old attitudes die hard. It’s harder to find EI recipients by ‘region’ since its federal, but the old idea that ‘most’ unemployed in NB are fishermen and farmers working part of the year and sitting back collecting money for six months of the year is way off track.

    Dealing with those problems takes much more work than ‘encouraging’ people to work. People WANT to work, it’s all about the process. Workfare is a bad word to use because in nordic countries it is far different than McKenna’s or Harris’ idea of demeaning the poor by getting them to pick up garbage (and in many cases costing the state more because parents were taken from their children to do the work).

    That definitely warrants much more analysis, just finding some answers is a worthy endevour, like those EI figures from various regions. None of these issues ever make it into the media, so the old ‘the unemployed are lazy deadbeats’ attitudes still persist. Until people have the basic facts, its’ impossible to make recommendations to resolve the issue.

  2. richard says:

    I’ll look forward to your analysis. I would expect that, given the out-migration of the past few decades, NB has a relatively high ratio of persons who are unemployable for various reasons. Some are sick or disabled, others are caring for relatives who are worse off, some prefer social assistance or grabbing whatever low paid work they can to relocation to other regions.

    I don’t see any simple fix for this, since governments are unlikely to provide more money to the social agencies in order to help the ‘unemployable’ become employable. Most of the poor are not lazy, they need help to get out of the trap they are in.

    While working in Ontario a few years ago, I was working with a fellow who had a poor opinion of NBers. He figured that NB has a high unemployment rate because NBers were just lazy. One summer a crew of NBers came through doing some installation work for local companies. These guys were at work at 6 AM and did not finish until 7-8 PM. They did this all summer. Needless to say, that shocked my colleague and shut him up. Now, perhaps these guys went back to NB and went on EI for the winter, I don’t know. But I expect that if work was available they would have been happy to be fully employed year-round.

    As I said, I’ll be interested in your analysis, but NB’s problem is really a lack of opportunity for those seeking work. Not everyone is going to be an entrepeneur; most just want a good job.

  3. nbt says:

    So the problem is far more endemic that the figures suggest. For welfare, I had this debate with NBT’s alter ego on facebook, who was griping endlessly about the ‘deadbeats on welfare’.

    Sorry mikel, not me. I don’t frequent anti-semitic nazi facebook sites like yourself. Which is why I don’t welcome any of your commentary. If David was smart, he would do the same.

  4. richard says:

    ” Which is why I don’t welcome any of your commentary. “

    I’d say that Mikel and NBT are each other’s alter ego. Just different sides of the same rhetorical coin. Kind of like Stewie and his evil twin from Family Guy.

  5. mikel says:

    Hate sidetracking a blog, but that’s just plain nasty. An ‘alter ego’ is OBVIOUSLY not meant to refer to NBT since we don’t know who NBT is (well, I’m pretty sure I do, but let’s not make this personal). The facebook thread, before people actually give credence to such nonsense (since some of us are not anonymous), is the New Brunswick facebook group, and if you’ve ever been there then you’ll remember Joe, whose complaints are very much in the vein of NBT’s (though not identical).

    If you want to delete my comments from your blog that’s your business, but these are political conversations that are important so don’t drag your vendetta’s over here. I’ll avoid your blog if that’s what you prefer (not a hard decision since anonymous posters have been pretty critical anyway).

    I do apologize if readers assumed that NBT called people on welfare deadbeats, that wasn’t what was meant. NBT has often complained about the EI policies which let people stay in one area when there are no jobs, in other words, spend part of the year on pogey. Joe’s complaints at the New Brunswick facebook site are similar to that but more personal. So after some thought, yes, I should apologize for making that statement without much thought.

    However, the response was way blown out of proportion, a simple objection would have sufficed. On political blogs nobody is going to agree on everything and such animosity just reiterates the reasons why people are apathetic and don’t even like to talk about politics. For my part I apologize for attaching NBT’s nick to comments he hasn’t made, although I won’t shy from bringing up his nick with respect to the ideology he’s pushing (at least the part of it I disagree with-I certainly have no trouble in lobbying for more accountability).

    So let’s try to keep this civil eh? Think of the impressionable children reading this!

  6. Spinks says:

    uh..Mike , you started it with NBT by… well let’s call it what it was, making stuff up. He called you on it. You’re busted and a simple sorry is all that was required not some lame attempt at justifying it.

    Sorry David for going off topic, it just had to be pointed out. I apologize in advance for any further diatribes from mike this comments results in.

  7. mikel says:

    Getting back on track, here’s a link that people should read up on, as opposed to just the stats:


    Poverty rates are analyzed by province at the national council on welfare here:


    Another aspect of poverty is the simple fact that under both the charter and in UN treaties Canada is ‘obligated’ to grant rights to the poor. As I’ve noted before, when you talk about welfare you talk about the poor. If David wants to start off his article with a bang, he may want to mention that its’ been almost three years since basic human rights of residential tenants were given royal assent but yet still haven’t been proclaimed.

    When you talk poverty you can’t overlook that we’re talking about a province where basic human rights are not even granted a section of the population.

    More on that available here:


    The caseloads by year and month are available here:


    Extended benefits accounts for 6000 people. Half of those are female, half male. Half are over 45. 90% are single.

    NB has among the lowest welfare rates in the country. I can’t find the study, but there’s a good one done in the last two years on the ‘welfare trap’.

    In a related story, Norway is among the only countries where the birth rate is increasing, it also has among the most services available to mothers, although not just welfare mothers.

    One interesting program was Oregons, which did not rely on ‘cutoffs’, a good article is here:


    I think more than one article may be necessary!

  8. Anonymous says:

    My comment follows the article on this same subject posted in the Telegraph Journal. He mentions that there has been no real change in the number of people receiving worker’s compensation benefits. A better indication might have been to see how many receive disability benefits through CPP as these people are then prevented from ever working again, even though they might be able to do some kind of work. (At least that’s how it was explained to me by someone who is going through this problem.)