Richest 1% in Ireland hold 4.9% of the country's income

Michael Taft: Call for labour power. Picture. Jim Coughlan

A trade union economist has highlight the huge income gap between the country’s highest and lowest earners after an Oxfam study found the world’s richest 1% now has as much wealth as the rest of the planet put together.

Michael Taft of Unite used the EU’s Survey of Income and Living Conditions to look at the Irish public’s income — slightly different from wealth in that the latter includes assets a person may have such as property and cars while income refers to salary.

Mr Taft said that in 2007, prior to the economic crash, the top 1% of earners held 5.6% of the share of national income, well above the 5% average for the EU 15 countries.

The percentage fell significantly here at the height of the crash in 2011 to 4.3%, while the EU 15 average actually increased to 5.3%. Mr Taft said the fall here arose from “property and speculative” losses.

“However, since 2011 (and the current government), things are on the mend with the 1% trending upwards,” he said pointing out that the richest account for 4.9% of the national income compared to an EU 15 average of 5%.

“Still a ways to go to pre-crash levels, but with a little time and a few tax cuts, normal business should be resumed,” he said.

He said:

  • The lowest 20% of income earners have only an 8.3% share of national income compared to 39.1% for the top 20%
  • The lowest 10% have only 3.2% share compared to 24.4% for the top 10%. The lowest 5% have only a 1.1% share compared to 15.1 for the top 5%.

“There are many who would see these figures and the first thing they reach for is the tax axe,” he said.

“There is something to that. Redistribute €250m from high-income groups to low-income groups and watch consumer spending, business turnover, and GDP rise. But there is far more to inequality than just income.”

He said, affordable childcare would mean a person could take up a job or increase working hours and if public transport fees fell, the person would have more to spend.

“Public services are vital — not only in order that people can have access to services they might not otherwise, but that access doesn’t leave a further hole in the pocket,” he said.

“There is also labour power. Giving people in the workplace stronger rights (right to collective bargain, part-time workers’ right to extra hours, statutory Sunday premium and overtime pay, extension of statutory collective bargaining) pushes up wages, especially the low-waged, and bridges the gap between the highest and the lowest by raising the floor,” he said.


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