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Thursday 17 October 2019

'Invisible and undervalued' - report shines light on 'squeezed middle'

Burden on the lower-middle classes is clear, says report
Burden on the lower-middle classes is clear, says report

Ralph Riegel

A hard-hitting new report warns Ireland's working and middle classes are amongst the most "squeezed" in Europe.

Hard-working families face a high cost of living and lack of universal provision in public services, in particular health, childcare and housing.

It says the "squeezed middle" has been left "invisible and undervalued" and is not feeling the so-called recovery.

Workers have to cope with Ireland's "unusually high incidence of low pay and weak labour protections", according to the report 'The State We Are In'. It says that 40pc of Ireland's population enjoy just 22pc of national income - in contrast to the top 1pc who enjoy a 5pc share.

Compiled by the think-tank Tasc, in partnership with the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), the report adds further weight to fears that Ireland's 'squeezed middle' has enjoyed little or no benefit from the recovery.

Incredibly, the study found that Ireland now has the highest market inequality of any EU country except Greece.

Study author Dr Robert Sweeney said the burden being exerted on Ireland's working and lower-middle classes was clear. "When compared to the more equal countries in Europe, it is not so much the poorest that fare as badly," he said.

"Where Ireland is unusual is in the low share of national income that goes to the working-to-lower middle classes.

"The top 10pc does nicely, and the top 1pc in particular. This suggests that the problem for the struggling and too often invisible working groups is one of insufficient pay."

Most controversial of the conclusions was that the Government's social welfare and tax policies were contributing to, rather than tackling, the problem. It warned many of these same Government transfers were actually subsidising the low pay and precarious work practices that are hitting Ireland's workers.

It bluntly warned that Government tax and social welfare transfers were enabling poor work practices to persist.

The problem has been compounded over the past decade by a surging cost of living - increasing rents and a lack of universal provision on public services such as healthcare, housing and childcare.

"In many incidences, the working-to-lower middle classes find that they are above the thresholds for access to these services, adding to their burden of inequality."

The study found that 24pc of Ireland's population is at risk of poverty, with 27.3pc of children facing that risk.

That ranks only slightly ahead of southern and eastern European states.

The report came as another survey, compiled by, found 52pc of Irish people believe housing is now the biggest concern facing the country - with four in 10 willing to pay more tax if it helped resolve the crisis.

Some 24pc of people cited health and 18pc cited Brexit as the biggest challenges facing Ireland.

Irish Independent

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