ICTU and TASC launch HEAP Report on Income Inequality

18 Nov 2009

The equality think-tank TASC and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions today launched the Hierarchy of Earnings, Attributes and Privilege (H.E.A.P.) report, designed to present the facts about income inequality in Ireland in an accessible form. The report - which was authored by NUIG academics Professor Terrence McDonough and Jason Loughrey - comprises a poster illustrating the numbers of households at different income levels, broken down by occupational category and household type, together with an explanatory booklet. The press conference was addressed by TASC Director Paula Clancy, Professor Terry McDonough and Congress General Secretary David Begg.


The report shows that:

  • Five per cent of families live on incomes exceeding €134,000
  • 58 percent of families live on less than €40,000
  • 26 percent of families live on less than €20,000
  • When analysed in terms of occupation, only the managerial/professional occupation category makes its way to the very top of the H.E.A.P. (an annual income of €600,000)
  • Income distribution became more unequal between 1987 and 2005. The distance between those at the top and those at the bottom widened.
  • Conventional measures of income inequality, such as the Gini Coefficient or quintile share ratios, fail to capture the increase in inequality
  • Relative poverty levels before Social Welfare transfers increased from 35.6 per cent to 41 per cent from 2001 to 2007. Social Welfare played a critical role in reducing poverty levels from 21.9 per cent in 2001 to 16.5 per cent in 2007
  • Women's income was around two-thirds of men's income; adjusting for differences in hours worked, women's hourly earnings were around 86 per cent of men's. Women were also more likely to be at risk of poverty.
  • There is a striking 'education premium': the median gross income of those with no formal education, or primary education only, was €13,489, while those with a university degree had a median income of €45,707

Speaking at the launch of the report, Congress General Secretary David Begg said:

"Here we have a graphic illustration of our clearly divided society, and strong evidential support for the view that Government cannot continue to impose the burden of this recession on low and middle income earners. Massive amounts of wealth were generated during the boom years. This report very clearly shows where that money did not go - to the majority of the population. And that wealth has not evaporated; it is still there, albeit concentrated in a few hands. If Government had any intention of forging a new and more equal Ireland out of this mess, it would study this report closely and act decisively to ensure nothing like it could ever be compiled again. We won't hold our breath".


TASC director Paula Clancy said:

"We've known for some time that income inequality in particular, and economic inequality in general, is rife in Ireland. Now, the H.E.A.P. report enables us to put figures on inequality. And, by breaking incomes down by occupational category and household type, the H.E.A.P. report shows just who gets how much. What is clear is that a very small group of people benefited enormously from the boom: Five per cent of families live on incomes exceeding €134,000 - and that doesn't take account of wealth holdings. At the same time, nearly 60 per cent of all families live on less than €40,000, and 26 per cent struggle to survive on incomes of less than €20,000. The longest line of icons in the H.E.A.P. chart represents families on around €10,000 annually - not only Social Welfare recipients but low-paid workers.


"Thanks to the groundbreaking research carried out by UK social scientists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, we know that more unequal societies have poorer outcomes across a variety of indicators, ranging from life expectancy via literacy levels to imprisonment rates. That is why the findings in the H.E.A.P. report are so disturbing and have such serious implications for public policy. TASC is currently working on a number of policy areas with the aim of constructing a roadmap towards 'recovery with equality', and the H.E.A.P. report will help inform that work".


Professor Terrence McDonough of NUIG, who authored the report, said:

"Ireland has long been judged one of the most unequal of the advanced industrial nations. Recent data comparing Ireland to our colleagues in the EU 15 confirms this. Recent years have seen some increase in the income of those at the bottom of our society. Nevertheless recent research has confirmed that while the absolute welfare of those at the bottom is important, the overall level of equality in society matters as well. Many social and health problems are worsened by inequality and levels of trust are damaged. The Celtic Tiger years and the resources generated were not used to reduce inequality. In fact, inequality increased over the life of the Celtic Tiger. Inequality of income between men and women remains an issue. The H.E.A.P. Chart graphically depicts the structure of income inequality among households in Ireland. It also contains information about family structure and the occupations of adult family members. In seeking to address our state deficit crisis, we must be mindful to do it in such a way that inequality is lessened rather than increased. The incomes of those at the bottom must be protected while those at the top must contribute more".




For further information contact:


Macdara Doyle Alex Klemm

Irish Congress of Trade Unions TASC

32 Parnell Square 13/17 Dawson Street

Dublin 1 Dublin 2

Tel: (01) 889 7799 or (087) 9174171 Tel. (01) 616 9050 or (087) 2606 139