University of Otago research has, for the first time,
confirmed New Zealanders are indeed better off if they become
disabled through injury rather than illness.
Researchers from the Otago University's preventive and social
medicine department have shown people who become ill or sick
and cannot work are socially and economically disadvantaged
by the financial supports they receive from welfare benefits,
compared with the financial supports people receive from the
ACC system, if they cannot work because of injury.
Dr Susan McAllister led the research for her PhD, conducting
a comparative study of 109 people aged under 65 years who had
a stroke and comparing their outcomes with 429 people who had
a similarly debilitating injury.
The study, which has been published in the international
journal Social Science and Medicine is the first to compare
the socio-economic consequences of different financial
supports after illness or injury in New Zealand.
The study found people who were injured were more likely to
get back to work in 12 months, had a better standard of
living, and maintained a higher level of income over their
recovery period because they had extra financial and
return-to-work support from the ACC scheme.
And while people who fell ill were eligible for sickness
benefits and had their treatment costs covered, their weekly
allowances on the benefit were means-tested, compared with
compensation under the ACC scheme, which pays out up to 80%
of a person's weekly wages while recovering, plus treatment
and rehabilitation supports.
The research found the median personal income of the stroke
group declined by 60% over the years, compared with a 13%
decline in the injury group.
A significantly greater portion of the injury group (79%) was
back at work after 12 months, compared to 49% of the stroke
The differences were most likely due to the extra financial
and return-to-work support ACC offered injured people,
through its rigorous case management of individuals, to try
to get them back to work as soon as possible.
Dr McAllister said the findings had implications for welfare
policies and, while the welfare reforms were more focused on
getting people back to work, the new benefits would still
remain at more or less the same level and be means tested.
It would still need a much more comprehensive package to
close the gap in socio-economic outcomes of those who were
injured and those who were ill.
She said the original recommendation made in the 1967
Woodhouse Report was for both illness and injure to become
part of an ACC-type scheme, but it never happened and the
apparent unfairness of the scheme had been the subject of
considerable controversy over the years,''Our study suggests
these concerns are indeed well founded.''
ACC Minister Judith Collins dismissed a suggestion from Sir
Geoffrey Palmer last year that illness should be part of the
ACC scheme, saying the scheme was never designed to be health
A spokeswoman from social development minister Paula
Bennett's office said the reforms going through Parliament
provided for more support for getting people on sickness
benefits back to work.