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From welfare to work for people with disabilities in receipt of public income benefits: A wicked problem for policy makers

TitleFrom welfare to work for people with disabilities in receipt of public income benefits: A wicked problem for policy makers
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsLahey, P.
UniversityMcMaster University
CityGuelph, ON
Keywordsemployment, mental illness, odsp, people with disabilities, welfare, work exit

Employment is a key determinant of socioeconomic inclusion and health. Yet, people with disabilities (PWD) have one of the lowest employment rates in advanced welfare states. This thesis consists of three manuscripts using three distinct methodologies to examine this phenomenon. This thesis advances knowledge in the field by examining the employment outcomes of PWD who are in receipt of public income benefits, often referred to as programs of last resort. This thesis is framed by the theory of wicked problems which serves to emphasis the stubborn problem of low employment participation rates. Despite the numerous enhancements made to social assistance programming over the last two decades to facilitate positive employment outcomes, people with mental illness remain one of the most marginalized worker populations. Manuscript one is a scoping review identifying what is known about active labour market policies within welfare to work programs for PWD. This research acts as the foundational piece upon which the other two papers build. The purpose of the review is to present the existing body of literature on this issue across all advanced welfare states and identify the gaps in the evidence base, summarize these findings and disseminate them to policy makers and other key stakeholders. Manuscript two is a quantitative study. It takes a narrower focus and examines a subpopulation of PWD. This study uses administrative data from Ontario’s Ministry of Community and Social Services to examine the system level factors associated with earnings-related exits from the Ontario Disability Support Program, Ontario’s public income system for PWD. The study draws on descriptive and inferential statistical procedures to provide an overview of income support recipients with mental illness who gain enough earnings to transition off social assistance. This study contributes data on the numbers behind system exits to inform program development within ODSP. While manuscript two answers who exits ODSP for employment, manuscript three provides insight into why and how individuals succeed in exiting the system. Through a series of semi-structured interviews with three participant groups, this study explores the process of transitioning off disability income support benefits among people with mental illness. This study adds to a small but emerging literature on the economic fate of former ODSP recipients, which will help inform policy development.

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