All in this together
Since 1911, Members of Parliament have been salaried employees. (Before 1911, a man who wanted to be an MP had to have an independent income – either inherited wealth or a job that they could do around Parliamentary sittings.) For one hundred years, MPs determined their own salary by vote. Since 1st April 2010, MPs have been paid a basic salary of £65,738 per year together with a pension and severence package that is calculated to give them an effective annual salary of £77,738. They also, as we all know, have one of the most generous and flexible expenses schemes in the UK: which it takes an MP of uncommon integrity to refrain from exploiting. As of 24th May 2011, IPSA was made responsible for regulating MP pay as well as (since 2009) MP expenses. For the past two years, Members of Parliament have not had the power to vote themselves a pay rise. But they think they deserve one. When Yougov carried out a poll of MPs on behalf of IPSA, to ask them what salary rise they would prefer, the poll found that 69% of MPs thought their top-ten-percent salaries meant they were underpaid: the average level suggested was £86,250. One MP suggested £40,000. Cheryl Gillan, Conservative MP for Chesham and Amersham (35 miles from London), claimed that setting pay “too low” would mean “only the rich” could afford to stand for Parliament. (Gillan’s net worth is estimated to be about £1.5M: her expenses claims for a second home in London have consistently been over £20,000 a year every year. With no dependent children and a pensioner husband her basic MP salary puts them in the top 5% income bracket in the UK: if she were paid the £96,740 which Tory MPs on average think they should be paid, this would put them into the top 3% bracket.) Sir Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Devon, said it was “not reasonable” to expect MPs to make “enormous” financial sacrifices and that pay rates must be high enough to attract the best candidates. (With two children under 14, if his wife has no other income, his basic MP salary puts them in the top 10% income bracket in the UK, and if he were paid the £78,361 which LibDem MPs on average think they should be paid, this would put them into the top 7% bracket.) Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP for NW Leicestershire, claims “Most of my colleagues on the Government bench took a large pay cut to be an MP, and I think there is a real danger – you need good people, you need the right people – there are a lot of exclusions. Basically anybody earning good money in business or even in the public sector, with a family, that is a very, very difficult decision for them – the impact on them and their family to take a pay cut.” Andrew Bridgen also claims the highest expenses of any of the three Leicestershire MPs. Manchester Evening News carried out an informal poll of 27 MPs in the Greater Manchester area on the proposed pay rise. 21 of them didn’t reply. Of the six who did:
three – Labour’s Andy Burnham, Lucy Powell and Andrew Gwynne – saying they would not accept the pay-rise and attempt to hand it back. Stretford and Urmston Labour MP Kate Green said she disagreed with the level of the pay rise, while David Nuttall, Conservative member for Bury North, said he would abide by whatever IPSA said.
In January I tweeted two statements, asking people to RT with the one they agreed with: MPs do NOT deserve a payrise. And the other: MPs deserve a 32% payrise. The first has been retweeted over 600 times – the second, not at all. While other public sector employees are suffering from a pay freeze with the threat of redundancy hanging over them, MPs – who are already been paid far more than most of their constituents – feel they deserve to be pushed even further up the salary ladder. The idea that the “right people” won’t want to work as MPs unless they will be richer than at least 90% of the population, is an extraordinary one: it says a great deal about what these three MPs, Gillan and Harvey and Bridgen, think are the “right” kind of people to stand for Parliament: the very, very rich. No one except MPs, it seems, thinks they are entitled to a pay rise. MPs have voted to cut benefits to some of the poorest people in the UK on the specious grounds that since neither public sector pay nor minimum wage could be raised, the “solution” was to pay unemployed and low-wages people less. Not only does it seem that MPs are already overpaid, but several people demanded to know why they couldn’t have a pay cut, or why they had to claim such large expenses. Being paid so much more than the people whom they are meant to represent suggests that they don’t really understand what kind of dfficulties most of the people in the UK are experiencing. Arguments presented for abolishing MP expenses need to take into account that – for example – the MP for the Orkney and Shetlands will necessarily need to use a very generous travel allowance in order to get back to his constituency every weekend and to travel around the constituency – 200 miles from north to south, most of it sea – but the MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup in south-east Greater London could just buy an all-zones travel card. (It is 827 miles by road and ferries from the House of Commons to Holsens Road on the Shetland Islands: 338 miles from the northernmost point in Shetland to Inverness. 15 miles from Bexley to the House of Commons.) There are ways to fix the MP expenses system but of course this would entail MPs really wanting to fix it. Dave Prentis, the Unison general secretary, said:
“At a time when millions of workers are getting zero pay rises, the idea that MPs believe they deserve a 32 per cent increase is living in cloud cuckoo land.”
An MP cannot be a proper representative if they are widely regarded as corrupt and out of touch. They must learn better: a more realistic attitude to what they deserve to be paid would be a good start. Courtesy of Jane Carnall at Edinburgh Eye