Wednesday 26 October 2016

Growing inequality must be addressed

Published 23/09/2016 | 02:30

(Stock image)
(Stock image)

Even in the depths of 1950s Ireland, a place of your own was an expectation, not an aspiration - and through the recession of the '80s it was still achievable. In the run-up to the last few elections, all parties at one stage or another sought to emphasise that we must have a vision for our society, and not just the economy.

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If such a vision exists, it appears to be partial, with social blindspots that render too many invisible.

This week, the Simon Community revealed that the number of people sleeping rough in the capital had reached a record of 168. High rents, a scarcity of houses, inability to get loans and myriad other reasons are listed as to how this has come to be.

Today, we also report how young families, who need to buy their own homes most, cannot get close to the property ladder until they are in their mid- to late-30s.

It is more than 50 years since John F Kennedy warned: "Economic growth without social progress lets the great majority of people remain in poverty, while a privileged few reap the benefits." The same young people struggling to buy their homes find themselves working longer and spending less time with their children. We are prepared to pay lip service to the notion of society, but when it comes to deciding what values we should be striving for, we appear incapable of looking beyond material ones. A world of things encroaches on the prospects of a more human world. It is possible to see a labour force, but overlook the human beings it comprises. The race to make ends meet becomes so relentless that more are marginalised almost by stealth.

So instead of bringing more people into the term 'we' or 'us', we have become comfortable with the notion of 'them' which a real vision of society would not accept.

Yesterday, the Government moved to provide more beds for the homeless. That is all a Government with limited resources can do - for now. But as a society, ought we not be more ambitious and more engaged with what we term progress? Exclusion, exemption and growing inequality should not be allowed go unchecked. They are inimical to both society and a strong economy.

Urgent action required to beat obesity problem

Earlier this year, we were warned in a major EU health study that we face an obesity crisis and are on course to being the fattest nation in the world.

Yesterday, the Government amplified this message with its own. Obesity must be tackled with the same urgency adopted to stamp out smoking.

Health Minister Simon Harris promised all kinds of measures: eating guidelines, calorie-posting legislation and the prioritisation of obesity services within HSE plans. All of this is laudable, and critical to its success will be the involvement of the Department of Education.

The idea that young teenagers could share some of the same health problems as pensioners should make it plain that this is a matter of life and death.

Given that this is the case, it is surprising that steps to bring in a sugar tax have not advanced. The plan supports such a levy but there is no indication as to precisely when it might actually become a reality.

It is expected the Department of Finance, which has in the past opposed the move, will finally give it the go-ahead - but not before 2018.

Industry must also buy into the battle by making food more healthy.

The plan sets specific targets and goals which simply must be met. With 60pc of adults and 25pc of children either overweight or obese, we must act now.

Irish Independent

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