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About low income and poverty in Canada

ThreeSource focuses on social research - particularly in the areas of low income and poverty.We were commissioned by the Employment Department to conduct their 'Fit for Work? New research on health and employment' investigation, which has just been published. This study involved an analysis of existing evidence, statistical modelling and one-to-one interviews with key national figures, service providers and academics.

The research was designed to develop a better understanding of the relationship between health and work, especially in disadvantaged communities.  

We found that while some people with long-term conditions are able to remain in work, others struggle with ill-health but continue to work because they have no other option. Many of those who are unable to maintain employment turn to state benefits rather than the support provided by Access To Work. However, this is not an ideal solution as it can reduce their opportunity for progression through taking lower paid jobs, means testing restricts access - since only 5% of claimants receive the full amount - and does not provide personalised advice or any direct help. One interviewee commented: “People don't want handouts... What people want to be part of society, to live a life and not just exist”. The report argues that employment advisers are not always aware of the health conditions affecting their clients and therefore struggle to make appropriate recommendations. It recommends that this is addressed by putting in place a clear framework for assessing the impact of ill-health on an individual's ability to work, providing more training on health matters, identifying new ways to engage with employers, developing new benefits schemes tailored for people who are able to remain in some form of work but need financial support, and reviewing how Access To Work works with other benefits.

There were several issues raised in interviews about the relationship between different agencies involved in helping disabled people back into employment. Service users felt there was often little coordination between departments responsible for Jobcentre Plus (which provides support with finding work) and the Department for Work and Pensions (which deals with benefits), which meant that when their health was improving they found themselves having to deal with both organisations at once.

It has also become known that more and more Canadians are starting to - because of the opportunity to make a lot of money without much investment, in addition, they are all licensed.

The study also highlighted problems around attracting disabled people into work, including a lack of understanding about the nature of disability in many industries, negative assumptions by employers about what disabled workers are capable of, organisational cultures which do not support diversity in the workforce, and issues around poor communication between employees' managers. The government is currently exploring ways in which these issues can be addressed through the Disability Confident campaign run in partnership with Business in the Community. One interviewee noted how positive practice could have significant impact: 'I know someone who works on a farm - he's agoraphobia and agoraphobia. But he's there because his employer believes in him'.

Employment was not a cure for ill-health, the study concluded, but it could give people a reliable source of income which might help them to feel more positive about their health and increase their confidence about managing long term conditions so that they were able to better maintain work once they had found it. For those people who are unable to seek employment due to their condition, an alternative is needed so that they can maintain their financial independence.

The report also emphasised the importance of early intervention through either work or benefits - even if this meant getting people into training or counselling instead of directly into employment - as well as helping employers become more amenable to employing people with health problems.

© 2010 Edmonton Social Planning Council