In the last decade, the number of people receiving state aid because disabilities inhibit them from holding a job has doubled, and the amount of benefits paid has grown five fold.
At the beginning of this year, 82,590 Estonians were receiving disability benefits, wrote Postimees.
“The most significant growth factor were the Soviet-era working conditions,” said Ministry of Social Affairs spokeswoman Helena Nõmmik. Other factors are a lacking workman’s compensation system and the increased retirement age.
Praxis analyst Vootele Veldre also believes there are deeper social problems, as doctors may be more lenient in diagnosing disability in their disenfranchised patients. “It is not a well hidden secret that, in some areas, the work disability pension partly serves the purpose of social welfare,” said Veldre.
To qualify for disability services, a person must have lost 40 percent of his or her work capacity. It also depends on other factors, such as a person’s age. Financial aid for disability-related unemployment in 2009 was an average 175 euros per person per month. The number of people who have lost their ability to work has increased from 44,000 in 2001 to 78,000 in 2010, now comprising 5.7 percent of the population.
A study last November by the National Audit Office concluded that state aid to disabled people is partly going to waste and that the government should consider offering better services and medicines at subsidized prices instead of nontraceable benefits. In the current system, people may use the money for other purposes than the ones intended by the state, the audit found. Some people receiving such compensation can successfully support themselves without government aid.
The audit also criticized the current system for not motivating disabled people to get back to work, as they are not offered any rehabilitation services. Thus, the state focuses on the incapacity for work rather than the capacity to learn a new trade.