Taking steps to reduce income inequality

Claiming our Future is organising a national discussion on steps to reduce income inequality. The event will take place in NUI Galway on May 28th (the schedule is below). Registration is now open on the Claiming Our Future website. Income equality was identified at the first Claiming our Future assembly last October as a shared concern for trade unionists, community activists, environmental activists and others from across the full spectrum of civil society. By Niall Crowley.

Even the International Monetary Fund has now expressed concern with this issue of income equality. They have just published an analysis that concluded that income equality stands out as a key driver of the duration of economic 'growth spells'. They have found that high 'growth spells' were much more likely to end in countries with less equal income distributions.

Ireland should be worried. We live in a very unequal society. In 2009 the richest 10 percent of households received nearly a quarter (24.5%) of total disposable income. The poorest households received a mere 2.3% of total disposable income. The richest households got 11 times more than the poorest households .

There is some popular appetite for change. A 2010 TASC survey found that 91% of respondents agreed that the government should take active steps to reduce the gap between high and low earners. When asked about specific measures Government should take, 16% of 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 these two approaches.

Irish Governments seem less interested. During the boom period the gap between high incomes and low incomes widened considerably . In recession, austerity policies are further deepening the inequality. The CSO have highlighted that over 2008/9 adult poverty increased from 4.2% to 5.5% and child poverty increased from 6.3% to 8.7%. The World Wealth Report found that in 2009 Ireland's high net worth population rose 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 are getting poorer.

Claiming our Future is organising the national discussion in Galway on May 28th to build on this popular support for change and to advance a change of perspective from Government. The debate will focus on the value base that could inform our approach to income equality. The discussion will also focus on the issues we need to address around earned income levels, welfare payments and taxation. As before, there will be no keynote speeches, workshops, reports, motions or amendments. Instead, all participants will have an equal input into discussing the issues and exploring how we could work together to advance income equality.

Income inequality is something we do need to talk about and to take action on. This is not just a matter of fixing the economy. It is also about fixing our society. Income inequality causes a broad range of health and social problems . Mental health problems, rates of imprisonment and levels of violence are greater in societies with higher levels of income inequality. Life expectancy, educational attainment and social mobility are all lower in these societies. We cannot afford to ignore income inequality.



Claiming our Future identified eight policy priorities in the RDS In October 2010. One of these was to 'Achieve greater income equality and reduce poverty through wage, tax and income policies that support maximum and minimum income thresholds'.

This event aims to:

  1. Share information, knowledge and perspectives on income inequality and strategies to address this issue.
  2. Stimulate and support ongoing work across the country to debate this issue and to build support for policies to reduce income inequality.
  3. Identify a small number of demands that could be made to lever some political engagement with the challenge of income equality.

Everyone welcome. Book a place on the Claiming Our Future website.

10.00 am - Registration

11.00 am – Opening

  • Creative/informative presentation on the reality and consequences of income inequality in Ireland.
  • Welcome and introduction to the event.
  • Introduction to the first debate at the tables.

11.15 am – The First Debate – Should this be an issue?

  • Why would people want to reduce income inequality?
  • What level of income equality is desirable?
  • Gather the conclusions to the discussion.

12.00 pm – Pause

  • Creative interlude.
  • Introduction to the second debate at the tables.
  • Creative/informative presentation on earnings and income from assets and income inequality.

12.15 pm - The Second Debate – Action on Earnings and Income from Assets to reduce income inequality

  • What do earnings and assets include?
  • Should there be maximum and minimum thresholds for earnings and for income from assets?
  • Should there be differences in the approach to earnings thresholds in the private sector and in the public sector?
  • What policy steps could be taken in relation to earnings and income from assets to reduce income inequality?
  • Gather the conclusions of the discussion.

13.15 pm – LUNCH

14.15 pm – Re-opening

  • Welcome back.
  • Report on first debate.
  • Introduction to the third debate at the tables.
  • Creative/informative presentation on taxation and income inequality.

14.25 pm - The Third Debate – Action on Taxation to reduce income inequality

  • Why have taxes?
  • What should we tax?
  • Who should we tax?
  • What policy steps could be taken in relation to taxation to reduce income inequality?
  • Gather the conclusions of the discussion.

15.15 pm – Pause

  • Creative interlude.
  • Report from the second debate.
  • Introduction to the third debate at the tables.
  • Creative/informative presentation on welfare payments and income inequality.

15.30 pm – Fourth Debate – Action on Welfare Payments to reduce income inequality

  • Why provide welfare payments?
  • Why type of welfare system should we have?
  • What conditions should apply to welfare payments?
  • Who should get welfare payments?
  • What policy steps could be taken in relation to welfare payments to reduce income inequality?
  • Gather the conclusions of the discussion.

16.20 pm Pause

  • Report from the third debate.
  • Introduction to the fifth debate at the tables.

16.30 pm – Fifth Debate – Local Action

  • How can Claiming our Future further develop local level organisation?
  • What local level actions could be taken to seek progress on income equality?
  • Gather the conclusions of the discussion

17.15 pm – Closing

  • Report from the fourth debate.
  • Next steps for Claiming our Future
  • Creative interlude

17.30 pm - Close