I recently read with great interest on the Stats SA website about the number of unemployed people in our country and the fact that it is increasing. The number of unemployed people increased to 4.7 million between April and June this year! Stats SA reveals that this has pushed the official unemployment rate up from 25.2% to 25.6%.

They claim it is not that the economy is not creating jobs. The problem is that the number of job seekers is rising faster than the pace of job creation.

The official unemployment rate is expected to remain around 25% for some time. That’s because of structural shortcomings in the economy which, according to the National Development Plan, could take up to 30 years to overcome.

“Seriously”, was my very first thought! Then, I start to wonder how realistically people with disabilities are represented in these numbers? And what is being done to remedy this situation, 30 years is a very long time to wait for things to change economically, let alone to find a job!

The Disability World Report contains detailed information on the number of unemployed people with disabilities, but it the figures are from seven years ago. In 2006 12, 4% of the employed population was made up of people with disabilities in comparison to 41.1% of the total population. So more than a third of the unemployed, were also people with disabilities.

There is limited reliable information available on the number of people with disabilities in South Africa. The government uses an estimated of between 5% and 12% of the total population in their Integrated Disability Strategy White Paper. Looking at these numbers it would mean that between 2006 and now, only about 0.4% of all people with disabilities were employed!

Whether I am 100% correct in drawing these conclusions or not, these numbers scare me because unemployment is one of the biggest contributors to many of the social ills we see reported in the news daily. Protests, the rise in crime, and the pressure being put on the delivery of basic services to the public could all be blamed on unemployment. If you are not working it means that you have no income and you are living in poverty. But who should be responsible for ensuring that a nation works? Is it government or the business sector? Or is it a combination of both?

While we ponder this issue, I want to point out that many attempts have been made to tackle the burden of unemployment, but obviously not enough of them were successful, hence the large portion of unemployed people with disabilities in our country. Everything isn’t doom and gloom. Unemployment is not a uniquely South African dilemma; many other countries are also affected by it. Some countries have fairly workable solutions that are evident in the amount of job adverts exclusively for persons with disabilities one sees on websites.

However, unemployed people have to actively look for work. It can be difficult but there are organisations, like QASA, which have dedicated projects for assisting and even preparing people for employment. The Employment Project is linked to various recruitment agencies which can assist people in obtaining jobs. Unfortunately, there are other contributing factors that hamper the search for employment. These include a lack of accessible public transport, low skills levels among people with disabilities, limited access to education etc. These issues need to be addressed by our government. And our government needs to know about the needs of people through our representatives and councillors in our communities. Let us work towards being vocal and counted by engaging with these representatives and making our votes count, when we have elections next year. Otherwise, unemployment will only keep on rising.