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Insurance firm links 'activation model' to spike in disability pension applications

One Finnish insurance company reports a rise in applications for disability pensions—a jump it puts down to jobseekers trying to avoid new rules governing benefits.

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The government's so-called ‘activation model’ involving measures to prod unemployed jobseekers into work has caused a leap in the number of people applying for disability pensions, reports the insurance company Varma.

The firm’s chief physician Jukka Kivekäs says that the number of people applying to Varma to be classified as incapacitated has risen by 17 percent this spring.

“The obligations in the activation model do not apply if a person has an unprocessed application for a disability pension,” explained Kivekäs. “This is now one way to avoid them or to get extra time before the rules mean a cut in benefits.”

According to the activation model rules implemented from the start of this year, jobseekers must attend approved training courses or complete at least 18 hours of paid work over a three-month period, or face a 4.65-percent cut in their unemployment benefits.

The model attempts to mimic Denmark's labour market policies, and follows the much-trumpeted basic income experiment that is coming to an end this year. Critics say that the rules for the 'activation model' are unclear and that the government has failed to allocate sufficient resources to support services for the unemployed.

Ministry: Could be ’hidden incapacity’

The Ministry for Health and Social Affairs says it is following the situation with interest, but there could be an innocent explanation.

“It could be that this is a kind of hidden incapacity for work, which is now coming to light,” said Outi Antila, a senior official at the ministry.

Applications can be made online in a matter of minutes. Kivekäs says his firm has dealt with patients who don’t have serious illnesses and have only had the briefest of contacts with health centre doctors.

“The typical case where we think the activation model has had an impact is when a person who has been employed for a long time applies for a disability pension,” said Kivekäs. “Surprisingly at the reception he or she has had little contact with health professionals and wants a doctor’s note advising retirement on grounds of disability.”

Kivekäs says these spurious applications can be detrimental for applicants themselves, as they will likely be rejected, while they extend waiting times for those genuinely in need of a disability pension.

Earlier this year it was reported that nearly half of those to whom the new rules apply saw their benefits cut in April.

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