‘All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others’ is a famous proclamation made by the ruling pigs as the situation for the citizens of Animal Farm became truly clear. I recently read George Orwell’s Animal Farm to my young children. I hadn’t read it since my own childhood and I thought it might be a good way to teach them about critical thinking and the importance of analysing the source of news and information. Propaganda is far from dead, everybody has an angle.
I think the kids got something from it. I know I did. Recent news that Consultants can now prescribe certain expensive cancer medications to V.H.I. patients but not to public patients drew uncomfortable parallels. I think it’s very clear that some Irish citizens are more equal than others. Those that can afford V.H.I. now have a better chance of surviving certain cancers than everybody else. Is this the Ireland we want?
There are plenty of other less stark examples. Across our economy there are people being paid less than many of those working beside them while doing the same work. There are people on unpaid breaks eating lunch with colleagues who have paid breaks. There has to be a sour taste. I’d choke on my sandwich.
The days of getting a decent permanent job which allows people to raise a family and even have the occasional holiday or meal out seem to be gone too. We live in an economy filled with short term contracts and inconsistent hours. Getting a third level education isn’t even always enough to ensure a comfortable life. I wonder how long my children will have to spend in third level education to stand a decent chance? I hope I’ll be in a position to help them. Inequality has become the norm.
The Housing market is no better. People are being forced to move further and further away from where they work and often their wider family because of ever rising rents. The rents they are paying are often higher than the mortgage repayments they would make if they were able to buy. The problem for most is that they have no way of saving for a deposit while paying such massive rents. If you haven’t got parents with the means to give you a deposit, home ownership is but a retreating dream. Surely clear ability to make mortgage repayments should negate the need for a deposit? There is regular media commentary saying that home ownership is not important and renting is the European way. Most of these commentators are home owners themselves. Some citizens are truly more equal than others.
Cancer treatment isn’t the only area of inequality in our healthcare system. Waiting lists for public patients are far longer than for private. Public hospital Accident and Emergency departments are regularly packed and present safety issues for staff as well as patients. For less serious injuries private patients often have the option of ‘Swiftcare’ type services. While the less equal citizens queue. Elective procedures are as bad. It often takes years longer for a public patient to get an elective procedure than it does for a private patient. Years sometimes spent in pain. The more equal citizens get treated far quicker.
A lot of these problems are spin off’s from income inequality which has grown steadily over the years. A recent T.A.S.C. report has found that in 1977 the top 1% and 10% took home 4.8% and 23% of national income. In 1986 this grew to 5.2% and 26.1% and in 2015 had ballooned to 11.5% and 37.2%. The rich are getting richer and everybody else is squabbling over the leftovers. Much like the fictional citizens of animal farm, we have been robbed slowly but surely. Unlike them, it is not too late for us. We live in a democracy.
How much worse will it have to get before we say enough is enough? I don’t think we can afford not to take action. Inequality will keep growing otherwise. Each of us has a vote at election time and we need to start using it. Your vote can bring change. You can be sure that those that are benefitting most from the current situation will use their vote to keep things as they are.
We need to stop voting for Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. These self-proclaimed ‘broad churches’ contain so many competing views that it’s hard to see that they stand for anything at all. Hearing a Fine Gael local election candidate from Laois calling for no pay for student nurses working full time should tell us all we need to know.
And join a Trade Union. Only around 25% of workers in Ireland are members of a trade union. There are numerous studies that show workers who are under collective agreements earn a premium over those that are not, as well as there being reduced wage inequality. Trade Union members have a voice. Where there are good relations, Trade Unions contribute greatly to the success of an organisation. Trade Unions are not perfect, but neither are we. If you think you are doing fine with good working conditions without a Trade Union, remember that your conditions are likely as good as they are because someone fought for improvements in the past. Someone fought to maintain them. Many of us are still fighting. Pay it back. Your children will thank you.
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