Underemployment Negatively Affecting Mental Health of People with Disabilities
13 October 2017 at 11:46 am
New research from the Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health (CRE-DH) has found people with disabilities are more likely to experience underemployment, and are more likely to have their mental health adversely affected by it.
This recently published research used data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey – a nationally representative study of Australian households – to assess how disability modified the association between underemployment and mental health.
The research discovered underemployment, where a person in paid employment works fewer hours than their desired full working capacity, was associated with a significantly greater decline in mental health when a person reported a disability.
Lead researcher Dr Allison Milner, told Pro Bono News this research furthered the information uncovered by several previous studies into disability and employment.
“We’ve already got pretty good evidence that people with disabilities are more likely to experience poor quality work. So that means they are likely to be in jobs with low control, high demands and high insecurity,” Milner said.
“And we’ve already previously demonstrated that this has a relationship with their mental health, and at the same time we have other research showing that having employment can be really beneficial for people with a disability.
“It gives them a wide range of benefits that people without disability have as well and it really underlines how important the quality of work is.
“So this new paper really answers another piece of the jigsaw puzzle which is about underemployment, which is increasingly common and Australia has one of the highest underemployment rates in the OECD countries.”
The report found that people with disability in Australia already faced inequalities navigating the workplace.
“The 2015 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers indicates that people with disabilities may comprise up to 8 per cent of workers in Australia,” the report said.
“Compared with other workers, people with disabilities are much more likely to experience greater pay inequity and job insecurity than those without disabilities.”
Milner said underemployment was also more prevalent for Australians with disability compared to the general population, and added to the other exclusions they face, may have contributed to this greater decline in mental health.
“Underemployment is very much tied to job insecurity, cause you don’t know if you will be getting work or not. We found it was more prevalent among people with disability, not hugely, but by about 5 per cent,” she said.
“And we did find that the intersection of both being underemployed and having a disability, had a much greater impact on their mental health than when only one of these things was reported individually.
“So what this tells us is that there’s something going on at this intersection which is not only about reporting a disability, but also about the quality of work. So one of the reasons why people with disability may be particularly vulnerable to this is probably due to the work that they’re doing, as well as the environment that they’re in.”
“We already know people with disability are more likely to face discrimination when they’re going into work and we know they may face other social and economic exclusions. This may be why they’re facing a greater decline in their mental health when they experience underemployment.”
This research is also tied into other CRE-DH projects, including an Improving Disability Employment Study (IDES).
This study follows people with disability entering employment over time, to try and understand what their experiences are like when they engage with their employers.
Milner said this research would be beneficial in expanding knowledge on how to best improve the employment outcomes for people with disabilities, and highlighted that more research was needed.
“That will also tell us something about some of the models we’re using in Australia for encouraging employment among people with disability,” Milner said.
“So we currently have a number of different models that we’re operating both at national and a state level. The evaluation of these models in terms of whether they’re able to achieve quality employment, is something we don’t know yet.
“All we know in terms of our evaluation of some of the job seeker schemes, is basically how many people are getting a job… we don’t know anything about the types of work people are doing and what kind of work people with disability do that is meaningful and beneficial to them.
“That is something we need to understand more about and we also need to work out if we need more flexibility and differences in how work is arranged. It’s something we really need to look into.”