Poverty and its ripple-effect first cousin, inequality, will, as received wisdom assures us, persist. What need not persist are ineffective measures to try to if not eradicate poverty then to greatly reduce the draining impact it has on so many lives. In a small, rich country with the fifth-highest number of billionaires per capita in the world, that noble objective should be attainable — were it pursued.
Oxfam figures from January show we reflect a “global trend when it comes to wealth inequality”. The world’s 2,153 billionaires own more than the 4.6bn people, 60% of the world’s population. The annual Think Tank for Action and Social Change addressed that problem yesterday but from the other end of the spectrum. It found that almost one- in-four, or 23%, of Irish workers are low paid. This is, despite all our virtue signalling around social progress, the third highest rating in the EU. In a country where, to take just one example, housing is so impossibly expensive condemns swathes of the population to a hand-to-mouth existence. This stands even where low earners pay little or no direct taxes.
Conversely, the report shows that the share of income going to the top 1% has doubled since the 1980s. In 1987, 1% controlled 5.2% of national income but that is just under 12% now. There may be philosophical justifications for billionaires but these figures and the huge gaps they describe suggest there is no moral or political justification for them.