Who said that social inclusion can't bring economic impact?

Go to the profile of Irad Eichler
Sep 16, 2019
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After many decades, when people with mental disabilities were isolated from society, closed in hospitals and with no vision of recovery, today there's finally a growing movement toward inclusion. This year, I was fortunate enough to be part of a respected panel at OECD Forum 2019 discussing the Pressure of Modern Life, its impact on mental health and the best way to ensure integration of people with mental issues into the labour market. It was a great honour to present the way we used the mental health reform in Israel in order to create social change alongside economic impact.

OECD Forum 2019 panel session: Pressure of Modern Life

Re-watch the OECD Forum 2019 panel Pressure of Modern Life or browse all of the recorded sessions 

The World Health Organization reports that depression is set to become the second leading cause of disability by 2020. These issues often lead to loss of productivity, early retirement and higher rates of unemployment: the OECD estimates the total cost of mental illness at around 3.5% of GDP in Europe alone.

Find out more about the OECD's work on Mental Health and read the report Health at a Glance: Europe 2018

Health at a Glance: Europe 2018

The Pain of Imagination: How public expectations mask the importance of mental illness and loneliness in healthcare by Michael Birkjær

The Pain of Imagination: How public expectations mask the importance of mental illness and loneliness in healthcare by Michael Birkjær

During the last two decades, we have proven that mental disabilities are much better dealt with, both effectively and economically, through integration in the community. Since the 2000 mental health reform in Israel, the changes in patient services resulted in financial savings. About 1 million hospitalisation days – a 50% reduction – have been prevented, bringing savings of over NIS 1 billion (approximately EUR 185 million).


The fact that, today, mental disabilities are perceived not only as social or economic problems but rather as opportunities, shows a very positive trend.

"A person with disability who finds their way into the labour market is independent of social services and financial support, contributes to GDP and pays taxes as well. It is a triple win for government, for society and for the person involved"

Research has shown that over half a billion people are dealing with mental disabilities; 300 million are at an age that they would be in the workforce and 70% are unemployed. This is a disturbing figure when thinking about the quality human resource we are dismissing from the workforce: 210 million people who could be productive citizens in their societies and develop a sense of fulfilment for themselves. A person with disability who finds their way into the labour market is independent of social services and financial support, contributes to GDP and pays taxes as well. It is a triple win for government, for society and for the person involved.

Get more facts and compare your country on the OECD Society Data Portal

Fifteen years ago, I founded a candle factory to provide employment for people with mental disabilities in a small town in the centre of Israel. Fifteen years later, I’m proud to lead Shekulo Tov, an international vocational rehabilitation organisation providing services to 6,000 people with disabilities in 120 vocational training centres only in Israel. Thanks to the innovative approach we are promoting, 30% of our service users, who were first excluded from the labour market and isolated from our society, are now working with a contract, while 95% earn the minimum wage or more.

Shekulo Tov

In the last couple of years, we have received international recognition for our unique model and successful practices, and today our innovative operations are replicated across Europe. Our aim is to promote innovation in the rehabilitation system and we believe this can be achieved by each sector taking its own responsibility: the government authorities, the employers and the rehabilitation service providers.

Much work is still ahead of us, but the recognition by an organisation like the OECD of the importance of promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities in the labour market, as well as support systems to maintain their integration and productivity, is key for us.

I am always happy to open a discussion on these matters and meet new partners who share our vision. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you are interested in hearing more or would like to come visit us in Israel and learn about our work. 

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Related Topics

HealthEntrepreneurshipOECD Forum 2019

Find out more about OECD Forum 2019: World in EMotion

OECD Forum 2019: World in EMotion

Banner image: Shekulo Tov

Go to the profile of Irad Eichler

Irad Eichler

Founder and Chairman, Shekulo Tov

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