Poverty in Ireland-Low income groups
THE MOST chronic cases of inadequate remuneration for work occur among women generally, among badly organised unskilled labourers and in the employment of the young. Whereas wages have on the whole increased considerably in the last few years, they have not kept pace with retail price inflation which has been in the region of 26% in the last three years. By John Feeney, Dan Ruddy and Vincent Browne. Published in Nusight, November 1969.
Most wage increases have not greatly affected the conditions of the lower income groups as they have been secured by and for the better organised and better off workers. The 1965 figures for lower income groups, which are the most comprehensive available to date, are therefore still relevant, especially if used in relation to other wages pertaining at the time.
There were in that year approximately 153,000 male and 41,000 female wage-earners involved in industry. The men on average worked 45 hours a week and were paid an average of £13 7s. 2d., while their female counterparts who worked 41 hours a week were paid an average of £7 Is. Id., a little more than half the rate for men.
Whereas 24% of the men received a pay packet of less than £10 per week, the percentage of women was 93%. The number of women who were paid the average male wage or more was 537 or 103%.
These rates were among the best available for women workers as they were earned in conditions favourable to some kind of organisation on the part of employees. Vast numbers of women, however, are employed by commercial distributors of one kind or another and in menial capacities which serve to segregate them from their fellow workers.
In addition to the women workers mentioned above there were in 1965 approximately 3,000 girls between the ages of fourteen and eighteen engaged in agricultural employment.These
worked an average of 41 hours a week for which they received £4 2s. 6d., though the value of their contribution was not much less than that of their elders.
The conditions of employment for males under eighteen years w<:re not very different. These worked an average of 41.9 hours in return for which they received £4 9s. 3d. In the commercial sector many employers, such as publicans, rely constantly on the employment of boys and girls. Many of these are unlikely to stay in the job once they reach an age which qualifies them for better wages in other work at home or abroad, or, in the case of women, when the opportUnity of marriage arises. In this way employers are supplied with a constant turnover of young cheap labour.
This exploitation of women and young people has its effects on them personally, on their relatives and dependents and on the work-force as a whole. Unmarried women who are living away from home receive wages which are barely adequate to keep them in food and lodging. Those who are married sacrifice the care of their children and homes to add a pittance to the weekly income.
The young are employed in kinds of work which offer little or no prospects. Their work allows them make some kind of contribution to the home, but provides them with no training during a period when much of their age group are enhancing their future prospects by studying or working as apprentices.
A great percentage of women and young people are employed where the only objection to adult men is the need to pay them higher rates. The result is a large population of men out of work, and a subsequent decrease in the value of male labour. This in turn militates against workers' demands for higher wages and creates a vicious circle situation where the wives and children of the underpaid men arc encouraged to supplement the family income by taking employment.
The reliance of a great part of our economy on industries and services which budget on the basis of this kind of underpayment call official attitudes to social welfare into serious question. There is some connection, for example, between the fact that the Irish government's expenditUre per capita on children's allowances is the lowest in Europe and the fact that most industries in the country rely on the need for women and teenagers to take work.
At present childrens' allowances are payable at the rate 10s. for the first child, l5s. 6d. for the second child and 26s. 6d. for the each subsequent. This means that a mother of six children receives 4s. 8d. a week per child, while a mother of two receives 2s. 8d. per child.Whenthechild reaches 16 years of age the allowance expires. This amounts to an annual government expenditUre of £10,500,000 a year, which is issued indiscriminately to all who claim it and which constitutes in effect a tacit approbation of early school-leaving.
The normalisation of Irish home life by the payment of adequate wages and by the provision of meaningful children's allowances would undoubtedly affect the cheap labour market. Mothers could devote more time to the home and to the upbringing of their families and the young could pursue the career of their choice without being pressured into taking work prematurely.
This kind of poverty affects by far the largest number of people in the community. Recent developments have not succeeded in lessening the burden which the underpaid and thier families must carry. Unless the state is prepared to playa more significant part in subsidising families by an income-related children's allowance scheme, this kind of poverty must continue to exist and inequality of opportunity will remain the norm of Irish life.