Huge disparities of wealth in Irish society not an issue in election

One in every 100 Irish person is now a millionaire, even when their family homes are excluded from the calculation. This is according to the Sunday Independent of 18 March.

The newspaper also reported that Ireland now has six billionaires whose combined worth of €11bn is equivalent to the GDP of Jordan, which has a population of six million.

The newspaper says one in every 100 Irish people is a millionaire - even if you exclude the value of the family home.

A huge number of people who have become fabulously rich in the last decade have become rich not because of any great gifts they possess that has brought enhancement, financially, aesthetically or otherwise, to the rest of society, but because they are a dab hand at the property business.

In other words, vast tranches of our national wealth has been diverted to a small number of people some of whom have contributed little to society, while the rest of society is relatively impoverished as a consequence. And, to make matters worse, these have escaped the very lax redistributive mechanisms (ie the tax regime) that have sought to introduce a modicum of modest fairness by their “exile” in these foreign lands.

Meanwhile, nearly one in five people (18.5 per cent) are living on incomes at less than €11,000 for a single adult or less than €25,500 for two adults and two children, that is disposable income (income after tax but including all social welfare benefits). To most of us who write for or read The Irish Times, the idea of a family of four living on less than €25,500 a year is inconceivable. Indeed it must be for all our legislators as well, all of whom earn multiples of this. But over three quarter of a million (764,179) people in Ireland live on this income of its equivalent (ie less than €11,000 for an adult living alone, €14,600 for an adult and one child, a little over €18,000 in total for two adults living together).

Were it not for social welfare payments, the number of people living below this base level would be far higher, around 40 per cent.

One fifth of this three quarters of a million people living on these miserable incomes or below it, are people at work. Only 10 per cent of them are unemployed. Over a quarter are on what is called “home duties”, 10 per cent are retired, 10 per cent are disabled.

There is no willingness on the part of the political establishment to do anything about these huge inequities. None of the mainstream political parties are even addressing the issue.

Fianna Fail and the PDs however have committed themselves to reducing what is called “consistent poverty” but they are unhappy with any talk about relative income poverty, which means they think it is OK for three quarters of a million people to live on disposable incomes with equivalent of less than €11,000 for an adult, while others are on incomes of millions and their TDs and Ministers are on incomes of ten times that and more, much more in the case of ministers.

People living in “consistent poverty” are those who have disposable incomes of less than 60 per cent of the median income and (italics) are deprived of one or more goods deemed essential for a basic standard of living. In its “National Plan for Social Inclusion 2007-2016” the present government parties acknowledge that the consistent poverty rate is 7 per cent of the population. That is 290,000 people. And the proud promise of the present crew (Fianna Fail and the PDs) is not to use the vast wealth we have accumulated these past 15 years to eliminate consistent poverty but to reduce it to between 2 per cent and 4 per cent by 2012.  And no commitment at all on reducing the vast disparity in income and wealth generally.