Beyond Income Inequality

Inequality – It’s not just about income

The term inequality does not only refer to economic inequality but covers a broad range of issues such as inequality on the basis of gender or ethnic minority. There are a number of factors which create barriers and difficulties and make people more at risk of poverty. These factors should be seen within the overall structural context of how a particular country chooses to distribute wealth and tackle inequality. In terms of individuals, some key factors are seen as making a person more “at risk” of being in poverty such as:

  • unemployment or having a poor quality (i.e. low paid or precarious) job as this limits access to a decent income and cuts people off from social networks
  • low levels of education and skills because this limits people’s ability to access decent jobs to develop themselves and participate fully in society
  • the size and type of family i.e. large families and lone parent families tend to be at greater risk of poverty because they have higher costs, lower incomes and more difficulty in gaining well paid employment
  • gender – women are generally at higher risk of poverty than men as they are less likely to be in paid employment, tend to have lower pensions, are more involved in unpaid caring responsibilities and when they are in work, are frequently paid less
  • disability or ill-health because this limits ability to access employment and also leads to increased day to day costs
  • being a member of minority ethnic groups such as the Traveller Community, Roma,  and immigrants/undocumented migrants as they suffer particularly from discrimination and racism and thus have less chance to access employment, often are forced to live in worse physical environments and have poorer access to essential services
  • living in a remote or very disadvantaged community where access to services is worse


Inequality in Ireland

The Bank of Ireland Wealth of Nations Report 2007 estimated that the top 1% of the population held 20% of the wealth, the top 2% held 30% and the top 5% held 40%.

Economic Inequalities

Since 2015, TASC, the Think-tank for Action non Social Change has produced a yearly report on inequality in Ireland called Cherishing All Equally: Economic Inequality in Ireland looking at a wide range of issues. The 2016 report also includes in-depth themed sections regarding the impact of economic inequality on gender and children.

Health Inequalities

A report by the Combat Poverty Agency and the Institute of Public Health in Ireland in 2008 focuses on ‘Tackling Health Inequalities‘. The report draws attention to how social, economic, and environmental conditions play a major role in determining health in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The report estimates that 5,400 fewer people would die prematurely each year across the island of Ireland by tackling social deprivation and inequalities. It advises that strategies to reduce poverty and inequality are fundamental to reducing health inequalities.

The above report draws on the international work of the World Health Organisation which established the Commission on Social Determinants of Health in 2005 to provide advice on how to reduce widening inequities in the social determinants of health. The Commissions final report was published in 2008. It made three overarching recommendations:

  1. Improve daily living conditions
  2. Tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money, and resources
  3. Measure and understand the problem and assess the impact of action

In 2010, the Institute of Public Health in Ireland published a report ‘Making Chronic Conditions Count’. This shows that local socio-economic circumstances affect the prevalence of chronic conditions in an area. Adults living in more deprived areas are more likely to be living with a chronic condition. It found that the contrast between the most deprived areas and the least deprived area is sometimes quite large. For example, coronary heart disease prevalence in the most deprived areas in the Republic of Ireland is almost 2.5 times that in the least deprived areas.  The report recommends that equity should be incorporated more strongly into the implementation of key government policies and should be extended beyond access and quality of care to reflect the definition used in the WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health.

The Equality Authority and the National Disability Authority in their report ‘Disability and Social Inclusion in Ireland’ identify that ‘about 38% of adults reporting chronic illness or disability in the 2001 Living in Ireland Survey are found to be at risk of poverty, more than twice the rate for other adults.

Equality and Discrimination

In 2008, the Equality Authority and the Economic and Research Institute (ESRI) published ‘The Experience of Discrimination in Ireland’. Drawing on an earlier survey carried out by the Central Statistics Office, the report found some of the following:

  • Of the eligible population, 9% of respondents reported discrimination accessing services and 7% reported work-related discrimination.
  • In 71% of cases discrimination was experienced on more than one occasion
  • Of the 9 grounds covered by equality legislation, age-related discrimination was the most commonly reported (19%) followed by race/ethnicity/nationality (16%) and sex (12%).
  • Some 24% of non-Irish nationals believe they have been discriminated against over the preceding two years, just over twice the rate for Irish nationals.
  • 29% of the unemployed in the survey reported having experienced some form of discrimination in the last two years.

In Ireland, there have been a number of important changes in our society that are relevant for our understanding of equality. These include changes in family structure, changes in the composition of the labour market, increased immigration, and changing social attitudes. These changes have been accompanied by an increasing awareness of equality. The Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2007 and the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2004. The nine ground covered by this legislation are gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race and membership of the Traveller Community. It does not cover socio-economic status.

An Equality Authority was established in 1999 and in 2014 it was merged wit the Irish Human Rights Commission to form the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission.

Gender Wage Gap

The Equality Authority and the Economic and Research Institute (ESRI) published a report in 2009 that focused on ‘The Gender Wage Gap in Ireland‘. The report found that the overall wage gap between men and women in Ireland in 2003 was almost 22%. This is despite the fact that women have a higher educational attainment rate than men.

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