Saturday 23 March 2019

Editorial: 'Government has ignored squeezed middle at its peril'

The number who battle to make ends meet, despite good salaries, is growing. Stock photo: GETTY
The number who battle to make ends meet, despite good salaries, is growing. Stock photo: GETTY


The "squeezed middle" did not volunteer to be interminably trapped between a hard landing and a Government wrecking ball, but that is pretty much how it has played out. Tasc, the State think-tank for action on social change, has just produced a study revealing we now have the highest market inequality of any EU country except Greece.

And in the direct line of fire are "the struggling and too often invisible working groups".

The report significantly amplifies the argument that Ireland's middle class has been left out of the loop when it comes to distributing benefits from the recovery.

Its author Dr Robert Sweeney is in no doubt that the burden on Ireland's working and lower middle classes is all too evident.

"When compared to the more equal countries in Europe, it is not so much the poorest that fare as badly," he said.

We are an outlier, because of the low share of national income that goes to the working-to- lower-middle classes. That vague construct we loosely refer to as "society" has demonstrated time and again that where ethics and economics clash, economics generally comes away with the spoils.

The Indian reformer B. R. Ambedkar, who campaigned to end discrimination against the untouchables, said vested interests had never been known to have willingly divested themselves unless there was sufficient force to compel them. However, it is not in the nature of the "squeezed middle" to protest.

It would be a grave miscalculation for any Government to take their forbearance for granted.

On top of the Tasc study yesterday, another survey was published. This one was produced by, and has highlighted how 52pc of Irish people believe housing is now the biggest concern facing the country.

The number of those who battle to make ends meet, despite having good salaries, who feel left behind by the upturn in the economy, is growing.

Their sense of injustice is also rising. Not only are they not being rewarded or recognised for bearing the brunt of the recession, they are being targeted by a Government which is penalising them for their very restraint and dependability.

As this research shows, far from coasting it, middle-income families are barely able to cope. They see themselves outside the circle of benefit, yet it is their labours which help the 1.3 million people in receipt of social welfare payments keep going. So why, they ask with increasing frustration, is it that they are the first port of call when the Government needs to tap an extra source of revenue?

Economies rely on equilibrium, and if ordinary necessities - such as access to good healthcare and affordable housing - are beyond many, instability and industrial strife are never too far behind.

Once again, a study has shone a spotlight on the growing chasm between the rich and the "invisible" working poor.

Significant scope for redistribution between high- and low-paid workers has been identified.

It had best not be ignored.

Irish Independent

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