From top: Screenshot from a new Labour social media ad campaign; Anne-Marie McNally
We have introduced marriage equality into a desperately unequal society.
Anne Marie McNally writes:
At the moment the Labour party have a Facebook ad campaign running through people’s newsfeeds called ‘Standing Up For Equality.’
The ad shows a young same-sex female couple and their young children happily facing into an Ireland where they are treated as equals.
Could the Labour party run the same tagline ‘Standing Up For Equality’ with the same couple, or any couple, walking out their front door and facing into the Ireland that is now the most unequal country in the EU in terms of how income is distributed in the economy?
The most recent budget simply served to consolidate that income inequality and entrench the ‘them and us’ mind-set that is so pervasive in Irish society. There can be no doubt that income inequality and social deprivation leads to a disenfranchising of large cohorts of the population with the resulting social ills manifesting in a variety of ways.
Eric Uslaner, a prominent political scientist said, “Trust cannot thrive in an unequal world” and ultimately income equality is the prime mover of trust. Indeed Emile Durkheim, commonly considered as the father of sociology, identified that suicide rates were impacted by how well people felt integrated into society.
Here in Ireland, we presently have one of the highest rates of suicide for both youths and adults across the EU.
Almost all academic findings point to the fact that in societies where wealth is more evenly distributed, the health of that society is simply better overall. The sense of social cohesion and a feeling of ‘being in this together’ promotes integration and shared experiences and thus, reduces everything from health problems to crime levels.
In an unequal society the emphasis tends to be on domination and the attainment of power as opposed to those more equal societies where the common good and shared experiences are valued. Japan and the Scandinavian countries for example have a situation where the richest 20% in society are less than four times richer than the poorest 20%. Keep those figures in mind then look at the social indicators in those countries.
The educational outcomes, their mental well-being indicators and even their life expectancy rates are higher. Their crime rates and prison populations are lower. To cut a long story short – they’ve gotten it right.
In an Ireland of ever increasing inequality it seems somewhat hollow to pat ourselves so firmly on the back for delivering marriage equality whilst ignoring those struggling at the bottom end of an ever-increasing wealth divide.
There are ways to address this inequality in the same way we bravely addressed marriage equality – look the inequality square in the eye and say ‘enough’.
If we reduce the cost of living then we automatically increase the disposable income in a person’s pocket. But how do we decrease the cost of living in a dynamic capitalist model?
A country where the powerful top 20% of earners have the lobbying power to insist on tax-cutting measures that benefit their sheltered and comfortable existence whilst those of us on the other end of the spectrum bear the brunt of those same tax cuts in terms of public spending.
The answer is simple – you reduce the cost of living by funding and investing in the services that people need to live a healthy dignified life – healthcare, education, social protection, childcare, older care. The security that comes from knowing the State has your back in times of trouble in and of itself creates social harmony and mental well-being.
Public Services should not be reduced to bare commodities that are the preserve of those who can afford them but should rather be acknowledged as a social good for the benefit of all, equally.
The founder of the NHS in the UK, Aneurin Bevan famously said “no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.” The same premise applies for all fundamental public services.
So it’s my bet that the lovely couple in the Labour ad favour equality in all its forms and realise that they’d do far better if Labour, and every other party, really would ‘Stand Up For Equality.’
Anne-Marie McNally is a political and media strategist working with Catherine Murphy TD and will be a candidate for the Social Democrats in the forthcoming General Election. Follow Anne-Marie on Twitter: @amomcnally