“Nice little earners”

There I am sitting among my three or four neighbours, and the talk turns to property. Their property.

This topic has bothered me for some time, as it brings out the nastiest prejudices in my neighbours: condemning suspected “welfare cheats,” bothersome tenants, and everything else.

Now one of these neighbours, Dick, tells me that he has just bought his wife a Jaguar—second-hand, mind you—as a Christmas present. I look across to my wife, and we both throw our eyes up to the air. Nice people, but over the top, and lacking self-awareness. Later, as the festive cheer loosens their tongues, Dick tells me he has a second home in the area, and remarks on how dirty some of his tenants can be. I want to tell him he is a parasite. As he profits from others’ misery, the state has a tax-avoidance, so-called “relief” scheme, whereby he can deduct at least 85 per cent of the interest on the mortgage from any tax payable on rental income from his little earner.

Another neighbour, Marie, tells me that some years ago she bought a “small” apartment in our village, and that she was looking for a reliable tenant for quite some time. Now, she rents the apartment through the county council, on the “sound” advice of her friend who worked in the council’s Housing Department, who probably took her through the mechanics of it. The council takes care of all the “hassle” that comes with being a landlord.

I am now fit to be tied with hearing of these “sound” investments.

It’s getting late, and the quieter neighbour, Seán, who would help any of us out if we were stuck, starts to tell me about his “little pension fund” down the country. “Ah, sure it’s for the future, when I retire.” He and his wife, a schoolteacher, have their little pension fund that they top up every year, thereby availing of more tax benefits from the state.

Then there is my other neighbour, May. She has a heart of gold, but runs a call-centre business. She pays crap wages, the minimum wage and maybe a small increase after a year or two for her workers, but she is not losing sleep over it, as she knows the state will top up these wages with family income supplement and so on, allowing her to make money. May runs “best employee” competitions at the end of each month, gives out small prizes. One can imagine how exciting this makes it to work for her.

All these neighbours, I think to myself, are generous to a fault when you meet them in person; the reality of their livelihoods, however, the nature of how they supplement the earnings from their own jobs, leads directly to these anti-working class prejudices. Meanwhile they take two or three foreign holidays a year, and some have holiday homes in Co. Wexford and the like for long weekends. They have the means to pay for grinds for their children, and to attend the best private clinics in times of illness. And they believe they deserve every bit of it.

The ruling class has to allow this “respectable” petit-bourgeois middle class to share in some of the spoils. Not only do the working class not have access to these tax breaks but they are the ones who end up paying for them, with reduced revenue for expenditure on public health, and so on.

All the while, middle-class types complain of the attitudes of their supposed “underlings,” so blind are they to their own heightened sense of entitlement.