News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 2nd June 2013

Income equality & increasing poverty staring Ireland in the face for a good while longer


The latest data (for 2011) on income inequality and poverty will shortly be published by the Central Statistics Office, revealing if the trend towards growing income inequality and increasing poverty is continuing or if it has subsided.

The gini coefficient is an index ranging from 0 to 100 where 0 represents a perfectly equal distribution of income and 100 represents a perfectly unequal distribution. The gini coefficient stood at 29.3 in 2009. This compared with an EU 27 average of 30.4.

The gini coefficient grew in the early years of the boom from 30.2 in 2000 to 32.4 in 2005. There was then a move towards greater income equality in the later boom years and early years of the crisis up to 2009. However the gini coefficient has since risen precipitously to 33.9 in 2010. This compares with an EU 27 average of 30.5 in 2010.

The Nevin Economic Research Institute (NERI), in the latest Quarterly Review, analysed disposable income to show that almost a third (31%) of households had a disposable income of less than 500 euro per week. Their research uses 2009 data, which does not cover the last four budgets that have had a depressing effect on incomes. The proportion of households on lower incomes is likely to have grown.

While most households have been affected by years of austerity, the impact has been greatest on low-income households.  Budget measures that do not take account of household income have a disproportionate impact on low-income groups, which have the least capacity to absorb reductions in income. The relentless downward pressure on low incomes is one of the main reasons why the domestic economy remains in the doldrums.

Stewart Lansley in his book The Cost of Inequality: Why Economic Equality is Essential for Recoverypresents evidence from the last 100 years which shows that more equal societies alleviate, and more polarised societies exacerbate, the ‘gyrations’ of the economic business cycle.  His work shows that equality has a smoothing effect, which buffers societies against the peaks and troughs of economic booms and busts.

Lansley argues that inequality is not just an issue about fairness and equity, but that it is integral to economic success. An economic model that encourages the richest members of society to accumulate more and more wealth leads to demand deflation, asset appreciation, and a constriction of the productive economy. This ultimately results in economic instability.

The OECD in its recent report, Economic Policy Reforms: Going for Growth 2012, states that there is a growing consensus that assessments of economic performance should not focus solely on overall income growth (GDP) but should also take into account income distribution. The OECD notes that rising income inequality tends to be shaped by an increasing concentration of income at the top end of the income distribution.

Ending the present crisis and building a sustainable global economy requires a fundamental leap that accepts that there is a limit to the level of income inequality a country can have that is consistent with stability. The successful management of economies depends on securing a more equal distribution of incomes. Reducing inequality has not yet been a central economic goal alongside, for example, controlling inflation or tackling fiscal deficits.

Measures to reduce income inequality must be seen as having a central role in creating the right conditions for sustainable and inclusive growth. The Government needs to set clear targets for a number of key economic relationships to make progress on income inequality, including:

  • Striking the right balance between wages and profits, because a lower wage share leads to lower growth;
  • Reducing the pay gap between top and bottom earners, as this will contribute to maintaining and increasing aggregate demand;
  • Putting limits on the level of income concentration and using the tax system more effectively for redistributive purposes. T. Pickety, E. Saez and S. Stnatcheva, in their 2012 paper, Optimal Taxation of Top Labor Incomes: A Tale of Three Elasticities, illustrate how the trend where the top 1% are paying less tax than they were thirty years ago needs to be reversed.

Irish Businesses facing big bank charge increases says Éamon Ó Cuív


Galway West Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív has criticised the Government for failing to intervene as Galway businesses face an increase in charges for lodging cash with AIB.

Galway West Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív has criticised the Government for failing to intervene as Galway businesses face an increase in charges for lodging cash with AIB.

From next week, businesses in Galway and across the country face an increase of up to 165 per cent in charges at the State-controlled bank.

“These are ridiculous increases for business owners,” said Deputy Ó Cuív. “The bank is actually charging more money to take in money. It makes absolutely no sense, and the Government is doing nothing about it despite the fact that the State controls AIB.

“This is just another example of government policy failing to bring about real reform in the banking sector.  It is our communities that are suffering as a result of the failure to support businesses local businesses and help stimulate growth and job creation.”

Deputy Ó Cuív said he meets business owners in Galway and Mayo every week that are under “huge pressure” from high rents, high rates, increasing utility costs and now higher bank charges.

“At the same time, the banks are still refusing to play ball when it comes to making credit available to these viable businesses. There are over 21,700 people on the Live Register across Co. Galway.

“They don’t need more bureaucracy and more pressure from government or government controlled areas. The entire banking system owes its existence to the Irish taxpayer – a point that the banks seem to have very quickly forgotten.”

The Galway West TD said that as AIB is State-controlled bank, the Government should be pushing through policies that will ensure businesses are supported.

“It is not good enough for Fine Gael and Labour to stand by as our local businesses are put under even more unsustainable pressure. This Government is very quick to take the credit for any positive news on jobs but it is nowhere to be seen when decisions are needed to support businesses and job creation in our communities.”

Skin cancer the most common cancer in Ireland


Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Ireland, with the number of people suffering from it doubling over the last ten years.

The latest statistics reveal one in eight men and one in ten women will develop the disease by the age of 74.

Bernie Rice, an office administrator from Leixlip, Co Kildare, is still trying to come to terms with the death of her oldest daughter, Sharon, 33, from skin cancer.

“Hand on heart, the word melanoma was not even in my vocabulary then. There was no warning, no real awareness out there,’’ she recalls.

“Sharon was such a vibrant girl. I have a photograph of her taken at a wedding in October. She is glowing, smiling.

“It is so hard to believe that three months later we had lost her.’’

A small mole on Sharon’s left leg changed everything.

In 2006 she noticed that it had got bigger and then one day she accidentally cut it and it began to bleed. Sharon immediately consulted her doctor and was diagnosed with malignant melanoma.

“It was a total shock, but Sharon was very positive. She was a bright, intelligent girl and we never thought at all that she was going to die from it,’’ says Bernie.

After having the mole removed, Sharon, an IT manager, thought she was cured. She got married and later ran the mini-marathon for the Irish Cancer Society. However in 2007 she began to have pains in her legs, unfortunately the cancer had come back with a vengeance.

In the wake of her daughter’s untimely death in February 2008, Bernie established the Sharon Rice O’Beirne Melanoma Trust, to raise the importance of early detection and awareness of the disease.

“We had to do something, Sharon meant so much to us. She was so strong and positive, if we could save even one person’s life through our campaign,’’ says Bernie.

If skin cancer is detected early, up to 90% of cases are curable. The Irish Cancer Society suggest that people should check their skin every month and get to know it, so that any changes can be easily spotted.

Although many skin changes are harmless, the Irish Cancer Society recommends consulting a doctor if you have a new growth or sore that does not heal; a sport or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab or bleed; constant skin ulcers that are not explained by other causes; or have a new or changing mole.

While most cases of skin cancer are in areas exposed to the sun, melanoma can also develop in places that do not get the sun, so don’t forget to check the soles of the feet and in between toes for skin changes.

The advice is to always wear sun screen and don’t forget that you can get burnt even on a cloudy day.

“There is this belief in Ireland that we don’t really get the sun. If there is a fine day, people strip off and forget about the sun cream. But the Celtic skin is so fair that the risk of skin cancer is greater,’’ says Bernie.

Over half the world’s population has untreated dental problems


Over half the world’s population some 3.9 billion people – are suffering from untreated dental problems, according to a new report.

A team of international researchers investigated the area of oral health as part of the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) 2010 study.

They found that almost four billion people are affected by oral conditions, with untreated tooth decay and dental cavities (caries) being the most common of almost 300 diseases assessed. These two conditions alone affect some 35% of the world’s population.

“There are close to four billion people in the world who suffer from untreated oral health conditions that cause toothache and prevent them from eating and possibly sleeping properly, which is a disability.

   “This total does not even include small cavities or mild gum diseases, so we are facing serious problems in the population’s oral health,” explained lead researcher, Prof Wagner Marcenes, of the Institute of Dentistry at Queen Mary, University of London.

The report revealed that the global burden of oral conditions is moving away from severe tooth loss and towards severe periodontitis (gum disease) and untreated cavities.

“Tooth loss is often the final result when preventive or conservative treatments for tooth decay or gum disease fail or are unavailable. It is likely that current dental services are coping better to prevent tooth loss than in the past, but major efforts are needed to prevent the occurrence and development of gum diseases and tooth decay. Ironically the longer a person keeps their teeth the greater the pressure on services to treat them,” Prof Marcenes said.

He added that the findings show that an urgent and organised response to oral health problems is urgently needed.

Rich world smugness and greed will melt with the Arctic ice


There are no comparisons to be made. This is not like war or plague or a stockmarket crash. We are ill-equipped, historically and psychologically, to understand it, which is one of the reasons why so many refuse to accept that it is happening.

What we are seeing, here and now, is the transformation of the atmospheric physics of this planet. The Arctic has been warming roughly twice as quickly as the rest of the northern hemisphere. This is partly because climate breakdown there is self-perpetuating. As the ice melts, for example, exposing the darker sea beneath, heat that would previously have been reflected back into space is absorbed.

This great dissolution, of ice and certainties, is happening so much faster than most climate scientists predicted that one of them reports: “It feels as if everything I’ve learned has become obsolete”. In its last assessment, published in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted that “in some projections, Arctic late-summer sea ice disappears almost entirely by the latter part of the 21st century”.

These were the most extreme forecasts in the panel’s range. Some scientists now forecast that the disappearance of Arctic sea-ice in late summer could occur in this decade or the next.

As I’ve warned repeatedly, but to little effect, the IPCC’s assessments tend to be conservative. This is unsurprising when you see how many people have to approve them before they are published. There have been a few occasions – such as its estimate of the speed at which glaciers would be lost in the Himalayas – on which the panel has overstated the case. But it looks as if these will be greatly outnumbered by the occasions on which the panel has understated it.

The melting disperses another belief: that the temperate parts of the world – where most of the rich nations are located – will be hit last and least, while the poorer nations will be hit first and worst. New knowledge of the way in which the destruction of the Arctic sea ice affects northern Europe and North America suggests that this is no longer true. A recent paper in Geophysical Research Letters shows that Arctic warming is likely to be responsible for the extremes now hammering the once-temperate nations.

  The north polar jet stream is an air current several hundred kilometres wide, travelling eastwards around the hemisphere. The current functions as a barrier, separating the cold, wet weather to the north from the warmer, drier weather to the south. Many of the variations in our weather are caused by great travelling meanders – Rossby waves – in the jet stream.

Arctic heating, the paper shows, both slows the Rossby waves and makes them steeper and wider. Instead of moving on rapidly, the weather gets stuck. Regions to the south of the stalled meander wait for weeks or months for rain; regions to the north (or underneath it) wait for weeks or months for a break from the rain.

Instead of a benign succession of sunshine and showers, we get droughts or floods. During the winter a slow, steep meander can connect us directly to the polar weather, dragging severe ice and snow far to the south of its usual range. This mechanism goes a long way towards explaining the shift to sustained – and therefore extreme – weather patterns around the northern hemisphere.

  I have no idea what is coming to Europe and North America this winter and next summer, in the wake of the record ice melt, but it’s unlikely to be pleasant. Please note that this record represents a loss of about 30% of Arctic sea ice, against the long-term average. When that climbs to 50% or 70% or 90%, the impacts are likely to be worse.

Our governments do nothing. Having abandoned any pretence of responding to the environmental crisis during the Earth summit last June, now they stare stupidly as the ice on which we stand dissolves. Nothing – or worse than nothing. Their one unequivocal response to the melting has been to facilitate the capture of the oil and fish it exposes.

The companies that caused this disaster are scrambling to profit from it. Shell only abandoned controversial plans to start drilling for oil in the Arctic in September when a final test of its environmental protection equipment off the north-west coast of Alaska failed to meet the standards required to gain a full drilling permit.  When it resumes it will push its operations hard against the moment when the ice re-forms and any spills they cause are locked in.

The Russian oil company Gazprom is using the great melt to try to drill in the Pechora Sea, north-east of Murmansk. After turning its Arctic lands in the Komi republic into the Niger delta of the north (repeated oil spills are left unremediated in the tundra), Russia wants to extend this industry into one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems, where ice, storms and darkness make decontamination almost impossible.

David Cameron, who still claims to lead the greenest government ever, is no longer hugging huskies. Last June he struck an agreement with the Norwegian prime minister “to enable sustainable development of Arctic energy”. Sustainable development, of course, means drilling for oil.

Is this how our children will see it: that we destroyed the benign conditions that made our world of wonders possible, and then used the opportunity to amplify the damage? All of us, of course, can claim to have acted with other aims in mind, or not to have acted at all, as the other immediacies of life seemed more important. But unless we respond at last the results follow as surely as if we had sought to engineer them.

Stupidity, greed, passivity? Just as comparisons evaporate, so do these words. The ice, that solid platform on which, we now discover, so much rested, melts into air. Our pretensions to peace, prosperity and progress are likely to follow.


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