The ‘land of milk and honey’ is a nice sentiment, if you’re a beneficiary of society’s largesse, but most of us are not, even if the country is supposedly thriving again.
I was thinking this the other day, when I was picking up discarded litter from the drains and footpaths: I’m on one of those community schemes that take you off the unemployment register and which allow the Government to claim that jobs are being created and that unemployment now stands at a very favourable 5.3% (which is still 127,000 people without a wage or a community scheme top-up).
Off the unemployment register also were 10 young men from Falcarragh, who left Ireland to join their friends working on building sites or mines in Australia.
Sadly, there are more to follow in their footsteps in the coming weeks and months.
To be fair, 5.3% unemployment looks good, and jobs are being created, particularly in the tech industry and for the highly-skilled, with six-figure wages available for people with IT skills. These are jobs at the big multi-national employers, like Google, Facebook, sections of the pharmaceutical industry, private medical facilities, and in a legal system that replaces god with money.
However, this is feeding the great division in society between the haves and the have-nots and it is an inequality that is becoming more apparent as each week leads into the next, making another economic crash more likely or even inevitable.
If you’re suited-and-booted and into fine dining because your earning a big wage, you can walk into a bank, engage in some friendly banter with the manager, and walk out with the promise of a handsome mortgage to buy the house of your dreams in a leafy suburb on Dublin’s southside, where the average price is €460,000, or on the northside, where the same house costs €343,000.
The problem is that on the northside, the average working wage ranges from €20,000 to €50,000 per year. Therein lies the problem, because no bank will entertain your pleading for a mortgage if you earn that little, no matter how sorrowful you sound, and you’ll walk out the door humiliated and empty-handed.
What’re your options then? Well, renting is the only one you have and you’re at the mercy of vulture fund landlords, whose only intent is the profit that can be squeezed from you, so you’re in limbo land, even though you work and earn a wage.
Further down the scale, where there is no work, only a reliance on social welfare benefits, you’re either homeless, living in a cardboard box, or languishing in a hotel room with no amenities that would allow for normal day-to-day living.
The lack of construction of social housing has destabilised society. An increasing percentage of the population is facing eviction, due to higher rent demands, or in serious arrears with their mortgage repayments.
Private sector building contractors are demanding huge sums to provide housing, because county councils have been stripped bare and no longer have the labour or equipment to build houses, as they once did.
The top tier of society, the high-earners, push prices up, while the people on the bottom rungs of the ladder fight for survival, because everyone is trapped in a merry- go-round of paying a crippling mortgage or unrealistic rent, on top of rising household bills.
This tiered system of survival is causing stress-related sickness and is a drain on mental health services.
Patients in the public health system wait on trolleys for hours and days, while people who can afford private health insurance skip the queues and the trolleys to be ushered into their own room for immediate treatment.
And now Britain seems closer to exiting the EU with a no-deal Brexit, since the ‘leave’ side voted overwhelmingly against the prime minister, Theresa May’s proposed withdrawal agreement.
That will have a knock-on effect for Irish industry and exports and so things are looking even grimmer for those on the lower rungs of the societal ladder, who had been hoping for a little light at the end of the tunnel.
- James Woods
Gorft an Choirce
Dun ná nGall