Teaandtoast.ie - Claiming Our Future takes on Income Inequality

This article by Niall Crowley appeared on teaandtoast.ie on 26th April 2011 and be found by clicking here.

Claiming our Future Takes on Income Inequality

Words by former Equality Authority CEO and independent equality consultant Niall Crowley

Income inequality is bad for those living in poverty. It harms the vast majority of the population. Income inequality is a causal factor in a wide range of social and health problems. Societies with high levels of income inequality have high levels of mental health problems, violence and imprisonment. These societies also have lower levels of life expectancy, educational attainment and social mobility. We cannot ignore income inequality.

Claiming our Future is organising a national discussion on steps to reduce income inequality on May 28th in NUI Galway. Registration is now open on www.claimingourfuture.ie. This is no ordinary conference with keynote speakers, panels, workshops and feedback. It is a participative discussion where all present will get a chance to contribute to the debate. This debate will focus on the values that could inform our approach to income inequality. It will also focus on the issues around income levels, welfare payments and taxation policies. It should provide a stimulus and support for action on these issues.

Claiming our Future is a social movement for an equal, sustainable and thriving Ireland. It draws together community activists, environmental activists, students, trade unionists and others from across the full spectrum of civil society. It held its first assembly last October. Over one thousand participants identified equality, environmental sustainability, participation, accountability and solidarity as the values to be espoused by the new movement. One of the priority themes identified by the assembly was that of income equality.

This focus on income equality is urgent in Ireland. In 2009 the richest ten percent of households received nearly a quarter of all disposable income. In the same year the poorest ten percent of households received a mere 2.3% of the total disposable income. The richest households received eleven times more than the poorest households. We live in a very unequal society.

During the boom time the gap between those on high incomes and those on low incomes grew considerably. It is getting worse in recessionary times as austerity policies dominate Government thinking. CSO figures for 2008/9 show that adult poverty increased from 4.2% to 5.5% and child poverty from 6.3% to 8.7%. The World Wealth Report found that in 2009 Ireland’s high net worth population increased by 10% to 18,100 individuals. These are individuals with investable assets of $1million or more. The rich are still getting richer and the poor getting poorer.

This runs counter to popular opinion. A TASC survey in 2010 found that 91% of respondents agreed that the Government should take active steps to reduce the gap between high and low income earners. Sixteen percent of the respondents were in favour of raising the minimum wage, 29% were in favour of establishing a maximum wage and 49% were in favour of some combination of the two approaches.

Support for change in this area has come from a surprising quarter in an analysis published recently by the IMF. The authors identify that income inequality stands out as a key driver of the duration of economic growth spells. They found that high growth spells were much more likely to end in countries with less equal income distributions.
The high levels of income inequality in Ireland have to be changed. This inequality drives the growth of health and social problems that affect the majority of the population. It poses a barrier to economic recovery. It is time we talked about this issue and mobilised support for change in this inequality. It is only going to get worse and Ireland and Irish people cannot afford that.

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