Sick at heart

The Dutch Employment Insurance Agency provides unemployment benefits (© UWV)

1 in 6 people of working age in The Netherlands are on a disability pension (the WAO). For years, people with even a minor ailment could and often did earn 70% of their last pay packet till they retired. And in recent years, the people most likely to enter the WAO have been young highly educated women between 25-35. Most of them leave the workforce because of psychological, stress-related problems.

For years, any reform of the WAO was out of the question. The issue was a hot potato that no politician dared to touch. However, now with an international recession on the doorstep and with nearly a million people on the WAO, everyone realises it’s time for an overhaul.

But how do you overhaul a system that people have taken for granted for so long? And what is to be done with the problems of working women who seem to be dropping like flies from the workforce soon after they enter it? “Sick at Heart” explains why the Dutch disability system is the way it is and goes a long way in explaining the “Dutch mentality”.

Producer: Dheera Sujan

Broadcast: August 2004