Hungry Bellies: Exploring inequality and deprivation in Ireland

In this paper we provide detailed evidence of the growing economic inequality in Ireland (South) in 2021. We do so firstly to vindicate the work of all those volunteers, modern day heroes, who assist our most vulnerable people and families on a daily basis. The research data we present is elevated above mere academic commentary by Six sections detailing the current lived experiences of experts in the field from Penny Dinners (Cork), the Muslim Sisters of Eire, Inner City Helping Homeless, the Traveller Visibility Group, SPARK (Single Parents for the Right’s of Kids) and Ber Grogan’s amazing ‘Basket Brigade’.

But we also do so to address a growing false narrative that Irish inequality is falling. It is not. Such a dangerous narrative runs the real risk of allowing policy makers to pass the cost of the current pandemic onto those who can least afford it, as happened after the financial crash of 2008. Hubris is the enemy of fair and judicious policy making and, much as some would like to, you ‘can’t just intellectualise away inequality, poverty, deprivation and discrimination.’

Unite has argued through the pandemic that a fairer better Ireland can be created out of this darkness. Given the suffering of far too many it is essential that this is the case. But for it to happen we must begin with a full and fair presentation of the problem and the data.

Enjoy the paper.

Thursday February 25th

Hungry Bellies: New report debunks myth of falling economic inequality 

Unite warns against ‘using wrong tools to ask wrong questions to come up with wrong answers’

In a new report, Hungry Bellies are not Equal to Full Bellies, published today (Thursday), trade union Unite presents evidence to counter claims that inequality in Ireland is falling, and instead shows that economic inequality is unacceptably high and growing. An online event will be held at pm on Monday 1 March to discuss the findings in the paper and the lived experiences of those facing inequality, deprivation and discrimination.  The event will be hosted by Vincent Browne and participants will include Professor Kathleen Lynch, Louise Bayliss of SPARK, Ber Grogan of the Basket Brigade and a representative of Inner City Helping Homeless.  The event will be broadcast live on Unite’s Facebook page.

Key indicators of Ireland’s high levels of economic inequality include, but are not limited to:

  • Figures in 2019 – the most recent year for which data is available – showed an increase in the proportion of our population experiencing three or more types of deprivation
  • Median rents are at between 48% and 68% of the media wage
  • Over a third of those living in rental accommodation experience deprivation
  • In 2019, well before Covid struck, nearly a million people, or one in five of the population, were on waiting lists to see a consultant
  • Ireland has the highest level of inequality in earned income before tax in the EU28
  • Ireland lacks the robust collective bargaining provision needed to effectively address earnings inequality

Commenting on the findings in the report, Unite Senior Officer Brendan Ogle said:

“Myth-making is a bad Irish habit.  This was evident prior to the financial crash when commentators talked up the Irish economy even as the underlying problems became ever clearer.  Over a decade on, commentators are again feeding us myths, this time claiming that inequality in Ireland is falling.  This paper shows that such commentators are using the wrong tools to ask the wrong questions to come up with the wrong answers – answers which contradict not only the facts but also the lived experiences of people struggling to cope with inequality and deprivation, and those charities and volunteers working on the frontline to mitigate the impacts.  The report published today includes powerful testimonies from these frontline heroes.

“We can only address economic equality once we honestly recognise the extent of the problem in Irish society.  We can then start focusing on the remedies, from public housing to a universally accessible public health care system and measures to improve the lives of workers, their families and communities.”, Mr Ogle concluded.


Notes for editors:

Hungry Bellies are not Equal to Full Bellies: Exploring Inequality and Deprivation in Ireland is available for download here.

A webinar exploring the issues raised in the paper will be held on Monday 1 March at 8 pm.  The event will be hosted by Vincent Browne and will be broadcast live on Unite’s Facebook page.


For further information contact Unite ROI Senior Officer Brendan Ogle (Tel. 086-7778231) or Strategic Research, Community Development and Communications Support Rhona McCord (Tel. 086-1454274)