The title for the ESRI new study is nicely balanced. Best of Times?, recalls Dickens’ famous opening lines to his novel, A Tale of Two Cities. Though according to Carl O’Brien last Friday, it’s not quite as ambivalent as that inestimable literary work when it comes to a judgement about the current state of social wellbeing in the Republic:
The editors of the book, Prof Tony Fahey, Dr Helen Russell and Prof Christopher T. Whelan, suggest the pessimistic view regarding the social consequences of the economic boom may be due to anecdotes and exaggeration substituting for hard facts.
“It is not true that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,” they said. “It is more accurate to say that the gap between the top and bottom of the social ladder has failed to narrow. It helps that the entire ladder has been raised onto higher ground.”
He goes on to enumerate the reports conclusions:
• Social mobility has increased as more people from modest backgrounds ascend into white-collar occupations.
• Poverty and deprivation rates have declined, although income inequality remains wide.
• The stresses of too much work and of juggling job and family life are less socially damaging than the stresses of too little work.
• Social support networks and attachments to communities remain strong. The image of masses of people lost and isolated in anonymous housing estates is belied by how settled and at home people feel in the new suburbs.
• People are marrying and having children at a higher rate than 15 years ago.
• National morale is among the highest in Europe.
It was launched by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. You can find his ‘spin’ on the book here.