Mental illnesses are not an ‘ideal type’ of disability for disability income support: Perceptions of policymakers in Australia and Canada [2019]

Aim: This article aims to explore how policymakers conceptualise a person suitable for disability income support (DIS) and how this compares across two settings – Australia and Canada.

Methods: A constructivist grounded theory approach was used; 45 policymakers in Australia and Canada were interviewed between March 2012 and September 2013. All policymakers are or were influential in the design or assessment of DIS.

Results: Results found that the policymakers in both jurisdictions define a suitable person as having as an ‘ideal type’ of disability with five features – visibility, diagnostic proof, permanency, recognition as a medical illness and perceived as externally caused. Many of the policymakers described how mental illnesses are not an ‘ideal type’ of disability for DIS by juxtaposing the features of mental illnesses against physical illnesses. As such, mental illnesses were labelled imperfect disabilities and physical illnesses as ‘ideal type’ for DIS.

Conclusions: The rise of DIS recipients has divided the once protected ‘deserving’ category of the disabled into more (‘ideal type’ of disability) and less deserving (imperfect disability). Such conceptualisations are important because these categories can influence the allocation of welfare resources.

Ashley Mcallister
Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, January 11, 2019