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Unemployed Australians with Disability Face High Levels of Discrimination

30 November 2017 at 5:03 pm
Luke Michael
Unemployed Australians with disability are facing high levels of discrimination, which can cause increased psychological distress, according to new research.

Luke Michael | 30 November 2017 at 5:03 pm


Unemployed Australians with Disability Face High Levels of Discrimination
30 November 2017 at 5:03 pm

Unemployed Australians with disability are facing high levels of discrimination, which can cause increased psychological distress, according to new research.

The University of Melbourne led the first Australian population-level study of disability-based discrimination and its health impacts, which was published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

The study analysed information on more than 6,000 participants between the ages of 15 to 64 years, using ABS data from the 2015 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers (SDAC).

It found nearly 14 per cent of Australians with disability experienced discrimination in the previous year, and concluded that this discrimination was “a prevalent, important determinant of health for Australians with disability”.

Disability-based discrimination was found to be worst for unemployed people, affecting almost one-third (30 per cent) of Australians with disability.

One of the authors of the report, Centre of Research Excellence in Disability and Health co-director Professor Anne Kavanagh, told Pro Bono News that unemployment discrimination was very common. 

“The most common reason people with disability have [suffered] discrimination is in regards to employment… across lots of different areas,” Kavanagh said.

“This is in terms of trying to get jobs, staying in jobs, being in jobs that are below their capacity and so forth.

“In this study we actually found that people who had been unemployed reported the highest levels of discrimination.”

Kavanagh said that it was not only unemployed people suffering discrimination, but also those in lower skilled occupations.

People with disability employed in higher-skilled occupations reported lower levels of discrimination (9 per cent) compared to people in lower skilled occupations (13 per cent).

“We know from other work… that discrimination on the basis of disability is the most common reason for complaints in relation to employment discrimination. It’s higher than race based discrimination and higher than gender based discrimination” Kavanagh said.

“And people in lower skilled jobs tend to experience more discrimination. The people in manager roles, which have some sort of authority, report less discrimination.”

Kavanagh added that these figures probably underrepresented the true extent of discrimination, with many victims hesitant to report a problem.

“If you suffer unfair treatment, do you know if it’s due to your disability or something else?” she said.

“What happens when you have a disability is you start to expect these things to happen as part of your ordinary life and so you don’t necessarily recognise it as being discriminated against.

“I would be surprised if discrimination levels were not quite a lot higher. But what this study does show is firstly that it’s common, and secondly that disadvantaged people experience it at higher rates.”

Kavanagh said data showed that Australia had fallen behind other countries in regards to employment rates for people with disability.

“If you look at the labour force statistics, nothing has changed in terms of employment for people with disability in the last two decades,” she said.

“Compared to other countries, we do significantly worse. Much worse than countries like New Zealand or even Mexico. We are one of the lowest in the whole OECD and that hasn’t changed in 20 years.

“For me that tells you that we still have an awful long way to go.”

The study highlighted that there was a strong association between disability-based discrimination and health and psychological distress.

“What we’ve shown in this study is that discrimination causes increased levels of psychological distress. But there’s wide literature now across public health showing that any form of discrimination have impacts on health,” Kavanagh said.

“In this study we only measured psychological distress, but there’s doubt it’s also likely to have longer term impacts on other outcomes like chronic diseases.

“The other thing we need to remember is that employment and financial security is really important in terms of a whole range of other outcomes, like the ability to access housing and social networks. If you can’t get employment due to discrimination, you’re locked out of a whole range of opportunities.”

For Kavanagh, society’s perception of people with disability needs to change before substantial improvements can be made in employment outcomes for people with disability.

“I think we actually need to transform society to stop seeing people with disability as a burden, and start seeing the many capabilities that people with disabilities can bring to the workplace.”

“We’re actually missing out on the skills of a whole group of people contributing to society because of our low expectations of what they can do.

“I hope in the next five to 10 years that we start to see employment improving for people with disabilities.”  

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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