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28th Feb 2024

For the EU disabled, earning money can mean losing benefits

  • In Ireland, the additional costs that a person with a disability has to bear ranges from €8,700 to €10,000 annually (Photo: Unsplash)
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Could you imagine if only half of a country's population was employed, or if there were measures that would undermine the incentive for the other half to get a job?

People with disabilities living in some European countries do not have to imagine this. They live it every day.

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  • Matthieu Chatelin, a Frenchman with cerebral palsy, gave his proposal for disabled job-sharing to president Emmanuel Macron in person (Photo: Matthieu Chatelin)

According to a report published on Thursday (April 27) by the European Disability Forum, an umbrella organisation of persons with disabilities, nearly half of active disabled people of working age are not in paid employment.

The nuance of 'paid' employment is important because there are alternative employment models, such as sheltered workshops, which have a significant number of people with disabilities on their staff, but do not provide them with an employment contract as such.

"You can work, but you do not have a real salary. You are not a real employee," Green MEP Katrin Langensiepen told EUobserver.

Not being considered as an employee means not having access to social protection, but also not receiving at least the minimum wage in the country of employment.

And even if they are considered to be employed, in several EU member states earning income from work actually means losing disability benefits, or having them reduced, or earning below very low thresholds to maintain them.

In Luxembourg, Portugal, Sweden or Slovenia, for example, it is not possible to combine disability cash benefits with income from work.

And in Austria, Belgium, Estonia, France, Lithuania, or the Netherlands, it means a reduction in the amount received.

"Having it [disability allowance] removed because people have found a job is not only unconscionable, but it also scares people away from even trying to get a job," Yannis Vardakastanis, president of the EDF, told EUobserver.

A report by the European agency for fundamental rights (FRA) also notes that the risk of losing the allowance undermines the financial incentive to work.

"It is often only by having a disability allowance and a salary combined, that a person is likely to be able to cover their own costs," pointed out Vardakastanis.

Put in figures: In Ireland, an analysis revealed that the additional costs that a person with a disability has to bear ranges from €8,700 to €10,000 per year. For those with severe disabilities, the figure rises to €9,600 to €12,300.

In Sweden, the average cost is €23,000. In the Netherlands or Denmark, it is around €20,000. And so the list could go on.

"Many persons with disabilities must spend more to achieve the same standard of living as persons without disabilities," notes the EDF report.

87 million disabled people in the EU face such extra costs (like paying for carers, adaptations in the home, workplace or transportation), but still earn less when employed.

That's a situation that worries the forum, given the impact that the current cost of living crisis can have on a particularly vulnerable group.

According to Eurostat data, in 2021, 30 percent of people with disabilities in the EU were at risk of poverty or social exclusion, compared to 19 percent of people without disabilities.

"Keeping our disability allowance is not a nicety," Matthieu Chatelin told EUobserver.

Chatelin is French, has cerebral palsy, and has required 24/7 care since birth. His disability is severe, so he needs help to carry out his most basic needs.

Disability is not a constraint, nor does it have to be, he makes it very clear from the start of the conversation: "Diversity is our (the EU's) strength," he says.

Chatelin has a Bachelor's degree and two Master's degrees, and spent seven years studying in the UK. On his return to France, with all this education behind him, he struggled to find a job.

Everyone told him it was too expensive to pay for technical assistance and personal support.

In the end, Matthieu and his colleague Marianne came up with a system that they even presented to president Emmanuel Macron: 'duo2compétences' (duo of skills). They both work in an insurance company where they share their tasks according to each other's skills and work interests.

He works half time (about 17.5 hours) and she works the other 35 hours a week. The idea of their model is to export it so that other people with severe disabilities can have access to employment.

"Work is life-changing," Chatelin claimed. "People should be given the option of whether to work".

"Today with technology and all the people that believe in inclusivity, most people with disabilities would work if the system was well-designed," he said. "But there are so many barriers to overcome for us".

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