Rich land, poor land
Ireland isn’t alone in failing to revitalise deprived communities. Studies in the UK show that despite a century of redistribution of wealth and various anti-poverty strategies targeted at some parts of the country, most remain, in relative terms, as deprived as they ever were.
Pobal is a State body that manages hundreds of millions of Government money to fund programmes aimed at promoting equality and development in marginalised areas. The organisation’s programme manager, Jerry Murphy, says its programmes focus on improving outcomes for individuals, rather than an entire community. If a person gets employment and improves their prospects, he says, they may move out of an area. Then they are replaced by someone in an equally needy situation.
“We try to ameliorate the lack of opportunity faced by an individual,” he says. “We’d love if we had the level of resources that you could equalise opportunities for everyone in a disadvantaged community, but no country has that at their disposal.”
An island divided
In an ideal world, there would be a smaller gap between the affluent and the deprived. There are strong economic arguments for boosting equality of opportunity. A society with full equality of opportunity lessens the effect of poverty that comes about when individuals don’t reach their potential. As a country competing globally, Ireland will need the highest quality labour force possible.
While Nordic countries have managed to narrow the gap through decades of spending and investments in social safety nets, Ireland still seems to be a divided and segregated island.
“People talk about Britain as a class-based society, but look how class segregated we are,” says Corcoran. “Just mention any suburb or neighbourhood in Dublin and people have connotations about it . . . it’s very possible for someone living in a privileged community to never ever meet someone from a deprived area.”
Economic meltdown, high unemployment and cuts in Government spending may change many people’s views. The instability of recent years and the crisis of capitalism has raised questions about the kind of society that should be built on the rubble of the past. Politics is in a state of flux and the electorate may well come looking for new approaches.
The Irish public, though, has shown little appetite for greater equality. As the economy boomed, the public was asked to choose between the economic models of Boston or Berlin. It chose the former, with low taxes and limited public services. The result was predictable: a gap between rich and poor that is among the widest in western Europe.
Hasse says research consistently shows that achieving a better social mix in housing is the single most effective way of addressing problems of deprivation. But an initiative to set aside 20 per cent of new developments for social and affordable use was watered down by the Fianna Fáil-led government in 2002. It meant the provisions never really took root during the boom years of rapid construction.
“I think that would have helped greatly if it had been followed through,” says Hasse. “However, middle-class society is happy to have these communities grouped away somewhere else. Unless these issues are addressed, there will continue to be repeated poverty and deprivation.”
The affluence index
The index of affluence and deprivation, officially known as the Pobal HP Deprivation Index, uses a series of indicators from the most recent census to measure the affluence or deprivation of all parts of the country.
It was commissioned by the State agency Pobal from the social and economic consultants Trutz Haase and Jonathan Pratschke.
It measures 10 key indicators including the proportion of skilled professionals, people with high levels of education, employment levels, single parent households, etc.
The index does not use personal wealth, debt or income (this isn’t included in the census), though Haase points out that these indicators are closely correlated with education, skills and labour-market status, which are covered in the census.
“This index really measures the extent to which an area can maintain its class position over time,” says Haase. “Education and skills are a much stronger indicator of income-generating strength over time.” He argues that negative equity, for example, isn’t a reliable long-term indicator of wealth of affluence as a person can ultimately trade their way out of this over time.
These figures are used to generate maps that are detailed to individual street level, based on “small-area statistics”, or pockets of the population of, on average, between 80 and 100 households.
These maps are available from Pobal, while Justin Gleeson, the data and technical manager with the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis at NUI Maynooth, has produced the maps accompanying this article.
The affluence index