As little as necessary

There is a thread running on about how hard it must be to live on the salary of a clerical officer in Dublin. The starting point is currently 21KE.

Clerical Officer roles as far as I remember do not require post leaving certificate qualifications. Above that, executive officer roles require some PLC but I think a diploma is the minimum. For administrative officer, you’re looking at a degree. This is by way of information. The fact is it doesn’t change the problem that yes, the salary of 21KE makes it borderline impossible to live in Dublin. I am aware of some people at AO level who, on something like 29KE were pondering how they could pay rent, feed themselves and get to work without spending about 4 hours commuting every day. And that’s supposedly a management track role.

There’s an argument that these are all entry level salaries and there are guaranteed rises. The rises however while guaranteed, don’t bring you up to affording to live in Dublin in under about 10 years. There are problems with this too, a key one being the civil service attracts quite a lot of people with previous experience – substantial in some cases – who do not necessarily fit the requirements for principal officer or assistant principal (linked, in my limited experience, to the rather narrow view the civil service has of defining reporting lines and people reporting to other people). Key examples include qualified women who have been out of the workforce for sometime owing to child care duties, or people who hit the job market in the period since 2007 when the country was in recession and who are diligently applying for jobs they are qualified. In short, at AO level and down, there tend to be a bunch of overqualified people. The civil service, when it hires these people, is getting quite a lot for free under the circumstances.

In general, however, the problem isn’t really the salary scales as such. The key issue is the relationship between the salary scales and the cost of living in Dublin. If you could guarantee that every person on 21KE was 18 years old and living with their parents, then it’s just about economically viable. Arguably, they won’t be having much of a life, and they won’t be saving much money. Like me in another job with what was then a defined benefit pension they will be investing in their future well being with some penury and some limitations in their job options. This is fine if someone doesn’t change the rules later. My defined benefit pension is no longer so defined.

The cost of a three bedroomed house to rent in north Dublin is around 1500E, or at least it was when I left. It might be higher now. Flatshares were tending to 700E a person when I left. 21KE salaries will barely cover a room in a share. The further out you move, the somewhat less money you will pay, but then, your costs mount in terms of commuting time and commuting money. Public transport in Dublin in my opinion is disgustingly expensive and the service across modes is at best of mixed quality and very poorly integrated. People on low salaries are screwed either which way in Dublin.

The solution is not, as it happens, to give them more money because this just winds up meaning that someone who used to be destitute on 21KE is still destitute on 28KE because the key contributor to the cost of living in Ireland is still accommodation and the cost of accommodation is generally governed to some extent by supply and demand. 7-8 years ago, accommodation in Dublin both rental and purchase was tumbling because there was a monumental oversupply. Although the population of the country, and possibly Dublin, has not sky rocketed in the intervening period, rents have. Supply has clearly tightened such that a reasonable equilibrium is not being reached.

Junior or low level civil servants are not the only workers in Dublin who are on a salary which bears no practical relationship with their cost of living. Private sector employees, especially those in retail, and any on zero hours/minimum wage, are struggling too. A universal fix to this problem is to do something about the accommodation supply problem and leave wages alone. There are benefits to this from a social and economic point of view. Reduced accommodation costs should see some corresponding increase in the retail and hospitality sectors which will lead generally to increased employment, reduced unemployment, increased tax take/USC take. The rental market becomes more fluid and there are more people moving to locations suitable to work rather than trying desperately to manage a commute from somewhere completely unworkable. It may lead to improved public transport options for some people, and that might lead to a corresponding reduction in carbon emissions.

But I can’t see it happening because one of the things which would have to happen would be a significant reduction in property values in desirable urban areas like Dublin. Whether we do it by building huge amounts of property or by forcing the use of currently unoccupied property, or by putting a huge tax on second home sales, a 50% reduction in property values will not be welcome. Maybe if we hadn’t reinflated our last property bubble in under 10 years…

I left Ireland in December because I failed to see a future where I wasn’t constantly economically stressed purely because of the property/commute issue. A city where more people feel economically secure would probably be a significantly happier and more productive city. But it will not happen.