Stagnant disability employment costs Australia AU$16 billion annually

Only 53.1% of disabled Australians were employed in 2022, raising concerns about their wellbeing and social inclusion.
By: | March 15, 2024

Australia’s employment rates for people with disabilities have remained stagnant for the past two decades, despite significant policy reforms and increased funding for support services. This lack of progress represents a missed economic opportunity, according to Curtin University’s report, which estimated a potential annual GDP boost of AU$16 billion (US$10.6 billion) if disability employment rates increased by just 10%.

The report, titled Employment and Disability in Australia: Improving employment outcomes for people with disability, stressed the urgent need for fostering a more inclusive workforce. Among its key recommendations are the adoption of a ‘work-first’ approach, bolstering public sector employment initiatives, promoting employer leadership in disability inclusion, and enhancing education-to-work transitions.

Furthermore, the report advocates for the establishment of a National Disability Employment Agency to enhance coordination among welfare and disability support agencies, as well as state and federal governments. This agency would serve to evaluate and identify best practices while providing crucial support and information to organisations striving to broaden access to meaningful employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

Analysing data from 1998 to 2022, the report underscored a widening employment gap, with only 53.1% of people with work-limiting disabilities employed in 2022, compared to 81.8% of those without disabilities. Professor Alan Duncan, co-author of the report and Director of the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, emphasised the critical need for addressing this disparity, highlighting the profound impact meaningful employment can have on individuals’ health, wellbeing, and life satisfaction.

READ MORE: Australia supports people with disabilities to advance their careers

The report also revealed higher rates of job instability and labour force withdrawal among individuals with disabilities, stemming from systemic flaws in support systems. Professor Mike Dockery, another co-author of the report, emphasised the necessity of government leadership in setting specific targets and reporting requirements for disability employment outcomes, particularly within the public sector. He called for the sharing of best practices among public sector commissions to facilitate continuous improvement in disability inclusion efforts.