Chris Olewicz is a post-graduate history student and writer studying at the University of Sheffield.
When the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) published its report on pay and pension consultation earlier this month, newspapers inevitably picked up on the fact that a majority of MPs felt they were underpaid for the work that they did: they currently receive an annual income (minus expenses) of £65,738. Of the three major parties, Conservatives felt they were the most hard done by, and advocated that the salary should be raised to £96,740. Labour felt that £77,361 would be adequate, with the Liberal Democrats claiming just less at £75,000. These headline figures dominated the coverage, but the whole report is a telling insight into the mindset of the public, who also responded to the survey.
Several MPs noted that their job was unique, and therefore remuneration should be calculated separately from other professions. In a way they are correct, no specific qualifications are required to become an MP, nor is there a skill set offered at selection meetings. Political parties do interview candidates, but this is no indication of their ability to perform once in the role. A person’s intentions in seeking out such a role are also unclear: are they financially motivated, or are their reasons intangibly linked to notions of public service and “making the world a better place”?
There never appears to be a shortage of applicants to stand in parliamentary seats, and if parliament were a business, the laws of supply and demand would suggest that the role is over paid.
Several respondents to the IPSA report suggested that pay should be at a level that encourages the recruitment, retention and motivation of MPs of an appropriate quality. The Conservative 1922 committee suggest that these are “high calibre people, capable of making a meaningful contribution to public life.”
The background of the ideal candidate is not specifically mentioned, however it is implied that they would be educated to degree level, and have some outside experience in a profession. In looking at professions that share a comparable wage, such as head teachers and general practitioners, the report suggests that full comparisons were not possible. It would be a rare thing in public discourse for headteacher pay to be criticised. In fact, public responses upon hearing about headteacher pay are often positive, and are seen as deserving of their wage.
On the issue of GPs, IPSA stated that the public were often uninformed about what GPs or Local Authority Chief Executives earn and what they do on a day to day basis, whereas an MPs pay and role are discussed on a daily basis. It would therefore be hard to link these roles as long as the current trends of misunderstanding persisted.
“It is not clear to us, for example, that the responsibilities of doctors, who are perceived to make “life and death” decisions about individual patients, are comparable to those of MPs, who make crucial, but collective decisions on NHS policy.”
Another issue was the question of extra parliamentary work taken on by MPs, such as parliamentary committee chairs. The Deputy Speaker of the House Lindsay Hoyle MP stated: “My own personal view is that consideration should be given to establishing a two tier structure with new Panel Members serving a ‘probationary period’ at a lower salary (to give them the opportunity both to obtain the basic experience needed to support work as a full Panel Member, and to let them assess whether the work and workload is for them) before moving up to a full salary.”
Mark Garnier MP was of a different opinion:
Others suggested that Chairs should be paid more, like Sir Nick Harvey MP:
“The current system seems about right, though initial rates for panel chairmen are pretty parsimonious and potentially off-putting given the heavy time commitment.”
What Did the Public Say?
A Chief Superintendants wage would seem to be a good base level for a basic MP’s salary. It carries a similar level of commitment, hours and responsibility. Jon Millbanks.
The role is that of a public servant, if they need extra reward for serving the public, what is their basic wage for? Chris Ffelan
Pay should be adjusted in line with the annual pay increases given to nurses, teachers and
others at the lower end of the public sector pay scale. Unknown
Pay MP’s the national minimum wage. Unknown
MPs receive such obscene benefits from other sources in expenses that their lifestyle is
assured even if they received no wage. They should receive a wage of a middle ranking
civil servant or a police officer. Unknown
MPs salaries should be a complete package. No travel expenses. No accommodation
expenses. No family members employed. Share staff like the Lords. They should be paid on
minimum wage through November every year. Unknown.
MPs work should be more of a vocational nature and not on a ‘how much can I make out of this
system’. They should be paid a fair wage that reflects what the average pay is. Some MPs it
seems can’t be trusted to be honest in all their claims for reimbursement. Unknown
They should NEVER receive larger increases in salary or pension or benefits than the public do. People work for much less with no extras, e.g. expenses, travel costs, etc. Unknown
If MPs are given the massive increase in salary then they should be barred from claiming any expenses except for those for running a constituency office. Stephen Hollinshead