The politics of death

About 100 times more people die because of a murderous political system than die of murders
By Vincent Browne


There are regular moral panics and political panics about the incidence of murder here, notably gangland murder, even though gangland murder accounts for only about a quarter of all murders. But never any controversy even over the wastage of human life arising from inequality.

More than 100 times more people die prematurely from all diseases because of inequality and deprivation, than are killed in even the worst years of murder here. More than ten times more people die prematurely because of inequality and deprivation than are killed on the roads. And yet no controversy, no political crisis.

It is because an acceptance of inequality has been built into our political culture, even at the cost of massive loss of life, a loss that is masked from public awareness.

The 5,000 plus death rate because of inequality arises only in part from inequalities in the health system. The endemic inequality in society, inequalities of power and influence, inequalities in education, in income and wealth, in access, all combine with the inequalities in health care to produce the startling result of 5,400 preventable deaths.

And those who promote, sanction and excuse such an unequal society create the political environment for the ideology of inequality to prosper.

The policy perused by the governments of Fianna Fail and the PDs, while succeeding in reducing the consistent poverty level, has massively favoured the richest 20 per cent of the population and, even more so, the richest 10 per cent.

As a consequence of which we have 30,000 millionaires (not counting the value of their homes), while 750,000 are living on survival incomes (€11,000 for a single adult, €24,500 for two adults and two children).

None of the main-stream parties, notably, Fine Gael and Labour are prepared to confront these inequities because of a fear that the political risk would be too great, that a rumour even of using the taxation system as a progressive redistributive mechanism, would recoil on them. As a consequence, none of the main parties are committed to doing anything fundamental about the structural inequities in Irish societies.

 A recently published analysis by Combat Poverty (‘Welfare Policy and Poverty') reports the following:

•    The poorest 10 per cent of the population in 2005 got only 3.2 per cent of all income, as compared with 24.4 per cent going to the richest 10 per cent;
•      In the period from 1994 to 2005 the poorest share of income actually declined (from 308 per cent to 3.2 per         cent), while the richest 10 per cent got more (from 24.4 per cent to 25.6 per cent);
•      The risk-of-poverty rate has hovered between 16 and 22 per cent over the last 20 years;
•      Between 1994 and 2001 it grew from 15.5 per cent to 22 per cent. In the 2000s the rate fell back to 18.5 per cent. (In the period the consistent poverty level halved – consistent poverty is defined on the basis of low income and lacking some of the essential ingredients for basic living in this society);
•     Ireland has one of the highest risk-of poverty rates for EU member states – 20 per cent as compared with 16 per         cent on average;
•     Irish poverty rates are so relatively high because our welfare system is a good deal less distributive (the average pre-transfer risk of poverty rate in the EU was 43 per cent, but after social transfers it was reduced to 16 per cent – in  Ireland the pre-transfer poverty rate was 40 per cent but reduced to only 20 cent by transfers);
•     Budgetary policy over the ten years from 1998 to 2007 resulted in 65 per cent of budgetary resources going on income tax reductions, less then 20 per cent went on social welfare increases, while 16 per cent when on child income support, almost all on child benefit which was spread across the board.
•     The latest proportion of budgetary resources went to the top fifth of the population, which got almost one third         of the total;
•     Using the EU measure of income inequality, the richest 20 per cent got almost three times of the amount received by the bottom 20 per cent, the top 10 per cent for almost five times what the bottom 10 per cent got from         the budgets of this period;
•     Some people experience particularly acute inequalities, for example Travellers live on average eleven years less than the settled population.