Wednesday 16 October 2019

Lost decade changed everything - from faith to education and jobs

Dublin city centre (Stock picture)
Dublin city centre (Stock picture)
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Was it the spectacular collapse of the economy which led to people losing faith?

Back in 2006, some 4pc of the population told Census enumerators they had no religion. At the time, the Celtic Tiger was in full swing, there was near full-employment, Government coffers were bulging with the proceeds of the property boom and the global recession was still some way into the future.

By the time of the 2016 Census, the proportion of the population with no religion had swelled from 4pc to 10pc.

Statistics can't explain the reason why, but comparing how we lived in 2006 with 2016 suggests the lost decade pushed many to their limits, and tested their faiths.

Not only was there a host of new Government charges, ranging from higher health costs, the property tax, water charges to hikes in income tax, but public services were cut.

Property prices plummeted, leaving tens of thousands in negative equity but servicing large mortgages, and the unemployment rate rose to 15pc at one point in 2012, adding to social welfare costs.

The statistics highlight how employment numbers were decimated in what was among the biggest employers in the state, the construction sector.

According to the Central Statistics Office, in 2006 some 215,000 people were employed in construction who lived in urban areas - cities, towns and villages. Around two-thirds of the entire sector worked in housing, building 93,000 homes, many bought using unsustainable credit lines.

By the time of the 2016 Census, the figure stood at 105,000. Some 110,000 people had lost their building jobs, with many forced to emigrate.

All that frenetic house-building meant almost three-quarters of the population either owned their home outright, or with a mortgage. In 2006, just over one in five rented. But with the collapse, the number of homes being brought on stream plummeted.

This has led to the unhappy situation where more than 95,000 households are living in overcrowded accommodation - up from just over 70,000 a decade previously, while more than one in four rent and just two-thirds are homeowners.

The number at work in manufacturing, transport and turf production also fell, while towns such as Templemore in Tipperary saw one in three workers lose their jobs. Sligo lost almost 20pc.

Cities such as Limerick have still not recovered the jobs lost over the decade.

Interestingly, the biggest upsurge in job numbers between 2006 and 2016 are in sectors associated with periods of affluence - real estate, banking, hotels and restaurants and the retail sector.

As the numbers at work fell, people made a concerted effort to get back into education, upskilling or switching into new careers.

Over the period, the percentage of the population with a third-level qualification rose from 30pc to 42pc. Fewer people had primary, junior or leaving certificate as their highest level of educational attainment in 2016 compared with 2006, but pockets still exist where few advances have been made.

And while in general terms we remain wedded to our car, there are signs of a switch to cleaner forms of transport, which should help tackle climate change.

Ethnically, we are more diverse today than ever before, but on a downside, parts of rural Ireland continue to lose population as families flock to the cities, in particular Dublin, in search of work.

It's no coincidence that towns around the capital are also the areas where most people report they enjoy good health. Conversely, there are more carers than before, and they are largely located in rural areas as the population ages. They are also providing more carer hours, often with little or no State support.

The lost decade did more than ruin the nation's coffers: it drove enormous changes in home ownership rates, played a part in driving up educational attainment and changed the types of jobs we did. The statistics would suggest that fewer people in 2016 were seeking answers from a higher power as to why it happened.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News