Tuesday, 2 July 2013

MPs already well paid? No, they’re not paid enough

Let’s be honest, there never will be a good time for MPs to get a pay rise. The public would rather see their pay fall than rise. The expenses scandal was the final nail in the coffin for most. Any remaining shreds of sympathy gone. Although I’m inclined to agree with what Labour MP Tom Harris has on his Twitter bio: “MPs are hated; always have been, always will be. C'est la vie.”
And he’s probably right. MPs could work for free and it still wouldn’t be good enough. At least they tried to detoxify the issue of MPs setting their own pay by passing on this responsibility to the Commons expenses watchdog, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA).
Fat lot of good that did. As Harris notes:

“People initially liked the idea of an independent body doing the job, but not if their independent decisions were going to include giving MPs a big pay hike.”

It does make you wonder what kind of people run the IPSA. According to their website: In everything we do, we focus on our main duty; to serve the interests of the public.” The IPSA hasn’t yet officially come out and recommended MPs get a £10,000 pay rise, and even if they were to go back on their verdict (unlikely), the damage has already been done.
As argued on this site yesterday, how on earth can we justify pay increases of 1% on public sector workers, whilst the (mostly) men and women who impose them walk away with a 15% increase? In 2013, we can’t.
But, let’s stop for a moment and look at the salary paid to the IPSA’s chair, Sir Ian Kennedy: remunerated the handsome sum of£700 a day for a 3 day week. For simplicity’s sake, assuming he’s paid for all 52 weeks a year, this equates to a salary of £109,200. Considerably more than MPs currently get, and still greater than they’d receive even with their inflated pay rise.
Are we really saying that the man charged with cleaning up parliament should be paid that much more than the folk who sit in it and decide how our schools and health service is run, or how best to tackle crime and protect us from terrorist attacks? This is before we get on to what are undoubtedly healthy sums paid to the IPSA’s Director of Communications and its other PR and Marketing bods.
Top civil servants, head teachers, GPs, anyone who’s a big cheese in the private sector, are all paid salaries that dwarf that of your average backbench MP. The issue isn’t that MPs are paid too much, it’s that they aren’t paid enough.
Critics (i.e. most of us) will point out that they’re privileged to be doing the job they do. Even if they’re hated for doing it. And they are in a wonderfully unique position. Working in the corridors of power must be a thrilling feeling. I know one MP, who lost their seat in 2005, who says that on an almost weekly basis they lament the fact that they’ll never be privy to such a life again.
As things stand, it’d be wrong for MPs to get a pay rise above that handed down to the rest of the public sector, even though they deserve one. Pay restraint looks to be with us for a generation.
Talk of MPs’ expenses is fraught with danger, but there are certain expenses that are integral to an MP. We should look at increasing the budget they have for paying staff. At present, London-based MPs receive £144,000 a year and those based outside the capital get £137,200. Individual salaries are at an MP’s discretion although there are agreed pay scales as guidance. Wages can vary between £16-25,000, sometimes more, based on experience and expertise. If for argument sake, a London MP employed six full-time staff, he/she could only afford to pay them £24,000, well short of the city’s average salary. A recent study found that Londoners need to be earning £38,000 just to be able to afford to rent a one bedroom flat.
Of course MPs don’t divvy up staff salaries in equal amounts. Many hire part-time staff; some rely on (paid and unpaid) internships and volunteers. £144,000 may sound like a large figure but it won’t get you very far when split between four or six people. Non-London MPs get even less to pay staff at Westminster and in their constituencies. Naturally, their staff in London can expect to be paid more, meaning less is available for constituency employees.
MPs work stupid hours. They’re rarely not working. Life in politics plays havoc with personal relationships. One out of every six Tory MPs elected in 2010 has split from a partner or seen their marriage breakdown.
There is no job description. They just keep on going until they drop. In some cases, sadly, literally. They need more support. In the current climate, there’s no way they’re going to get their 15% pay rise. Increasing the amount of paid help they get would be a decent compromise.

This comment piece was first published by Speaker's Chair on Tuesday 2nd July 2013

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