3 arguments for paying MPs more money and why they’re wrong

We looked at three arguments being put forward as justification for the pay rise it is recommended MPs receive this week. Oh, and why they're wrong.

We seem to be doing everything in threes today. Earlier we looked at three questions Iain Duncan Smith should be asked when he appears before the Work and Pensions Committee of MPs later today, and now we’re going to look at three arguments that are being trotted out as justification for the pay rise it is recommended MPs receive later this week. Oh, and we’re going to tell you why those arguments are wrong.

1) Paying MPs a lot of money attracts the best people to serve the country

Does it? Or does it attract the greediest people? Surely paying MPs too much could also mean more people looking to enter politics for reasons of self-interest. On the other hand, if someone is willing to take a pay cut in order to represent their consituents then they’re probably exactly the sort of person we want as an MP.

MPs should certainly be paid well – which they already are; their salary is three times that of the average worker – but why should they be paid exorbitantly? Bankers get paid exorbitantly – does banking as a profession necessarily attract the most virtuous people?

2) It will put off working class people from becoming MPs

Which would obviously be a bad thing. It isn’t apparent how a salary of £65,000 is something the average working class kid would turn their nose up at, however. An MP also only receives this salary once elected. Working class youngsters are put off standing for Parliament long before the point at which they receive their parliamentary salary. Blaming the lack of working class MPs on the fact that politicians don’t get an eyewatering salary seems a rather strange argument to make – to a working class kid a salary of £65,000 a year is the equivalent of winning the lottery.

3) They’d only be corrupt otherwise

If we don’t pay MPs more, they will only file outrageous expenses claims and spend all their time doing lucrative second jobs, so the argument goes. Imagine for a second if this argument were made to justify giving other public sector workers a pay increase – that we had to give nurses more money in case they stole all the drugs, or we needed to pay the police more so they didn’t moonlight on the job and leave the criminals to run free. The person making such an argument would be laughed at. And yet we accept it when it refers to MPs. (In fact, whenever public sector workers do strike for more money – workers who in most instances receive a great deal less than £60k a year – they are accused of holding the country to ransom.)

MPs are public servants and should be subject to the same rules as anyone else in the public sector. They do an important job – an incredibly important job – but so do lots of other people, such as nurses and the police.

26 Responses to “3 arguments for paying MPs more money and why they’re wrong”

  1. David_Boothroyd

    It is to be regretted that very few MPs (Tom Harris being a shining exception) give an honest answer when asked about the proposed salary. The honest answer is “That is none of my business”.

    If the public thinks it is appropriate for MPs to determine their own pay and allowances, then by all means put pressure on. But if not, then they can’t go complaining that they don’t like what has happened given that it was an inevitable consequence.

  2. Peem Birrell

    An *incredibly* important job? I don’t think so. Like most other workers including the police and nurses and private sector too, sometimes they do important things but most of the time they’re just fannying about.

  3. Damo

    I have a postgraduate degree and 5 years work experience, earn well below the minimum wage and do not find it easy to get by financially. Nevertheless I also know that £65k is NOT a lot of money for a job that requires the highest degrees of responsibility, accountability, knowledge, dedication, willingness to make a positive difference above and beyond their prescripted responsibilities, regardless of sector (headteacher, consultant surgeon, business / civil service leader, third sector executive).
    While it may be popular to say politicians don’t deserve these levels of remuneration, presumably because a lot of people don’t believe they have the aforementioned qualities, surely a reasonable, progressive position recognises that most of them probably do?

  4. JR

    To be honest, your response just shows how ignorant most of the public remain about the role of Parliament and public sector institutions.

    The answer to public concern and outrage over MP expenses should have been an education drive about what Parliament is for, and how people can engage.

    Some of this has been done, but there is still a massive gap in understanding.

  5. JR

    James,

    The issue of MP pay is hugely contentious, but should it be? Probably not. MPs shot themselves in the foot by politicising the issue back in the 80s, and the expenses system was set up to compensate MPs for stagnating salaries that were seen as politically too toxic to handle.

    The most interesting aspect of this debate is the unholy alliance between ‘progressive’ voices, such as this blog, and libertarian small governmentists such as Douglas Carswell.

    To me, the ‘progressive’ voices who tout the libertarian line here are clearly in the wrong. The points that you make remain cold comfort when wider issues about effective representation continue to be missed out whilst this pointless debate continues.

    Best to tackle your points in order:

    1) I suspect you would agree with me that it is impossible to measure ‘moral worth’ or community spirit, etc… in monetary terms. But saying that elected officials should have less, rather than more, is the other side of this same coin. Your argument here is a slippery slope towards saying that the only worthy MP is one who will do it for free. This means the only ones who can afford to do it are people who are already rich, and is the worst state of affairs. Labour argued successfully for MPs to be paid so that all people could be represented in parliament.

    2) There is no shortage of people wanting to become MPs. However, as another post highlights, 65k is a small amount in the professional world. It is important to turn being an MP into an aspirational position, clear views on the salary that someone is entitled to are just as important as in any other role. Paying MPs a small amount because the Daily Mail thinks the job is ‘easy’ and for ‘shirkers’ just re-enforces this negative stereotype.

    3) You might turn your nose up at it, but there is a clear correlation between poorly paid public servants and corruption. The way that MPs interact with stakeholders, or second jobs is a hugely important issue that deserves all of the effort that is being put into the pointless wage debate (and more).

  6. TM

    1) Paying MPs a lot of money attracts the best people to serve the country
    I think that myths well been busted somewhat. Best people? So that means that everyone else is second rate? What must all those working 40 hours week on minimum wage think about that? I can guess. It attracts good, bad and indifferent people like every other job does basically and a nice salary, and all the perks and bonuses, like heating expenses, and peppercorn rents and outside interests and subsidised food and drink and taxi fares just make everything that little bit sweeter when huge swathes of the population are struggling to pay necessities and are not even eating enough to stay healthy or have enough to heat their homes. Of course it has to be a reasonable salary, otherwise we’d have gentleman patrician types running the show again wouldn’t we, those wealthy, well connected, privately educated, elite types who know nothing about the real world and ordinary people, the people who couldn’t run a piss up in a brewery but somehow end up running the country. We really don’t want that do we?

    2) It will put off working class people from becoming MPs

    I think that it already has. How many people are there in parliament who actually come from poor, regular, ordinary Working class backgrounds from council estates anyway for that matter? It’s a handful basically. The fact is that the high salary just goes to those who are already privileged and affluent anyway, you know like it always does in every other sphere of British society. Somehow the rich and the Middle class get their noses well and truly in the trough one way or the other. There’s so little actual democracy in this country now that whoever gets in, it’s just a different colour of paint on the same house, or exactly the same sandwich with a slightly different salad dressing for choice.

    3) They’d only be corrupt otherwise
    Excuse me while I compose myself from laughing. So we are paying them more to be honest, even though they have all got second jobs, gold plated pensions and all the aforementioned perks and benefits. In short, it’s a gravy train. Perhaps if they didn’t get such inflation busting rises and heaped austerity on the rest of us, we would all be in it together. And nobody mentioned being paid by results. I think that’s for another day.

  7. blarg1987

    While I do partially agree with your point, I think the biggest angst with most people both public and private is that some MP’s keep telling us we are in an economic recession and that money is tight so we can not afford services or pay ises with people in the public sector.

    If this is the case MP’s should lead by example, just as CEO’s of companies should lead by example and accept pay freezes or cuts during bad times to set the example.

    Instead MP’s are being advised that there pay should increase by an independent panel, however when the public sector is shown to have an increase above 1% by an independent panel then it is voted down.

    If things are bad as we are told they are then MP’s should set the example, if however Mp’s are advised they deserve better pay then someone is nt telling the truth about how bad the economy actually is.

  8. Julian

    Average salary is £26,500, which is £19,400 after tax. £65,000 after tax is £43,750, which is two and a quarter times as high, not three times. Also, the £26.5k average covers all workers including those just starting out. Most MPs don’t enter parliament as their first job. A fairer comparison would be with the average income of people of the same average age. This would have an MP earning less than twice the average wage.

    I agree that we could decide that we only want MPs who are prepared to make a financial sacrifice. As there is no shortage of people wanting to do the job, I’m sure we’d find enough candidates. However, being an MP is a very responsible job, whatever you think of politicians. Do we want to establish the principle that job responsibility counts for nothing in pay if enough people want the job? What would that do to salaries in other sectors?

  9. blarg1987

    To be fair, private companies and even in the public sector that belief is being encouraged, nurses are currently going through regrading (mainly downwards), police starting salaries are being reduced. While in some parts of the private sector staff are being substitued with cheaper labour who will do the work for less.

    MP’s should reap what they sow, if they believe in the above so much then they should also be affected by it.

    I do agree with your point though that people should be paid well for their responsibility across the full spectrum of wages and job descriptions and not an elite few.

  10. Chris Kitcher

    It makes my blood boil when an MP boasts that he could earn more in the private sector. If money is their sole reason for working then they are not fit to be MP’s. Being an MP is a role that is given to few people and they should be satisfied that voters consider them the best person for that particular role. If all they want is financial reward they are in the wrong job, probably in most cases because they are unfit for any other role.

    We do not want or benefit from career politicians and the fact that they are not well paid should be the determining factor that demonstrates their suitability for the role.

  11. TM

    ‘MP’s keep telling us we are in an economic recession and that money is tight so we can not afford services or pay ises with people in the public sector.

    If this is the case MP’s should lead by example, just as CEO’s of companies should lead by example and accept pay freezes or cuts during bad times to set the example.’ That is the argument summed up in a neat little nutshell.

  12. uglyfatbloke

    Fact is, most of them really are n’t very good at being MPs. We can hardly argue that the country has been well-governed over the last several decades. Additionally, a great many of them (across the 3 main parties at least) have other income, often from directorships etc. that they only got because they are MPs

  13. evanprice

    I disagree with you.

    No-one suggests that MPs should be paid at rates of their equivalents in Italy (for example). The current package is being reformed with pensions and other non-wage benefits being reformed at the same time by IPSA. The proposed increase in salary is not the whole picture. The proposed increase does not result in MPs being paid ‘exorbitantly’ … to appear to suggest so is absurd.

    £65,000 is not an ‘eyewatering’ salary. It is very high in comparison with someone on average earnings – but for the responsibility to participate in the council of the country and in comparison with other jobs in the public sector where there are fewer than 1,000 individuals in that role, it is not a high salary. I agree that there is a problem with attracting people to become MPs – but I suspect that the problems of the professionalisation of politics and the prominence of people who appear to have experience of absolutely nothing before becoming involved in politics is more of a deterence. Combine that with the pressure on families, and the individual MP, from an unthinking and ill-educated commentariat that is more interested in its own prejudices than engaging with people who disagree with them, and there are very good reasons for people to walk away.

    I don’t agree that our politics is very corrupt or that it is easy to corrupt. If this were a substantial problem, it is interesting to note that once the UK decided to pay Judges a very high salary (the equivalent of over £200,000 in today’s money) , it was a very short period of time before the Judges were considered incorruptable and our judicial system thought of as the envy of the world.

  14. Lamia

    How was it ‘an inevitable consequence’ that MPs would get an 11% pay rise?

    Why should the public fund such a big rise in the pay of people already on over three times the national average when most have been enduring pay freezes or pay cuts.

    Your contempt for the poorer members of society shines through. Some ‘socialist’ you are. Just another greedy Labour Party number.

  15. Lamia

    But saying that elected officials should have less, rather than more,

    It is not being advocated that MPs have their pay cut but that it only rise in line with other public pay. Considering they are starting from a much higher wage than most, it should be much easier for them to manage than lower paid public (and private) sector workers.

    Paying MPs a small amount

    No one is suggesting ‘paying MPs a small amount’. The current wage is alredy three times the average national.

    Your argument here is a slippery slope towards saying that the only worthy MP is one who will do it for free.

    Absurd. You may as well claim that saying bankers shouldn’t get bonuses is “a slippery slope towards saying that the only good banker is one who will do it for free.”

    there is a clear correlation between poorly paid public servants and corruption.

    Irrelevant. MPs are not ‘poorly paid’.

  16. Lamia

    The general public tends to evaluate the value of public institutions by their own experience of them.

    Many people find them slow, incompetent and/or unhelpful. They don’t need ‘educating’ that they are wrong about that by you or anyone else, thanks. And bear in mind: if it wasn’t for the ‘ignorant’ public, many public ‘servants’ who can barely conceal their contempt for the public would be out of a job.

  17. David_Boothroyd

    Yah boo sucks to you with knobs on.

    Now that we’ve got the insult out of the way, can I point out that the “none of my business” referred to MPs, not to the public. The House of Commons itself decided to hand over to an independent body the determination of the salary levels and allowances for its members. From that point on, the level of salary became no longer the responsibility of MPs, either individually or collectively.

    It was practically inevitable that the next proper review would lead to a significant rise because there is a regular trend for governments to hold down pay increases for MPs, so the salaries for typical jobs used as comparisons are now significantly higher.

    I understand courses in basic English comprehension are available for fairly modest fees.

  18. Lamia

    can I point out that the “none of my business” referred to MPs, not to the public.

    I was aware of that. But it is the public’s business, because they are paying for it. It is also the business of MPs – who are alos members of the public – whether or not they find such a rise acceptable. Or do you not expect them to exercise any moral agency?

    From that point on, the level of salary became no longer the responsibility of MPs, either individually or collectively.

    They have a collective moral responsibility to reject it at a time when public finances are very tight.

    It was practically inevitable that the next proper review would lead to a significant rise because there is a regular trend for governments to hold down pay increases for MPs, so the salaries for typical jobs used as comparisons are now significantly higher.

    It was not inevitable. We arenot in a normal situation. It ought to have taken into account the straitened circumstances of public finances. It failed to do so.

  19. TM

    ‘£65,000 is not an ‘eyewatering’ salary.’ To many people in the UK, it is something they can only dream about.

    ‘it is interesting to note that once the UK decided to pay Judges a very high salary (the equivalent of over £200,000 in today’s money) , it was a very short period of time before the Judges were considered incorruptable and our judicial system thought of as the envy of the world.’ How very cosy for them. So they are incorruptible?! Are you so sure? The more people get it seems the more they want.

  20. JR

    It is good that you think it absurd not to pay MPs appropriately, but others do not follow your thinking on ‘pay cuts’ and ‘doing it for free’. I am sure that many people, on the surface at least, would think that the less MPs are paid (or bankers for that matter) the better.

    Paying MPs appropriately is a hugely progressive issue. It allowed the development of the Labour movement and the birth of a truly representative democracy.

    You say my ‘slippery slope’ point is absurd, but the role of an MP is not, and never should be, the same as a banker. To conflate the two speaks volumes about the level at which this debate is taking place.

    Indeed, you fall into the wider trap here and fail to recognise the impact this pointless wage debate has in taking air-time away from more important arguments.

    We should be talking about how MPs can more effectively represent the views of constituents, more professionally draft and debate new laws, and how or if these roles can be sacrosanct if they have second jobs.

    Accountability is essential to improve the democratic process, but horse trading over how little we can possibly spend on government and democracy is a mugs game for the tea-party.

  21. evanprice

    The decision to pay judges was in the middle of the 19th Century and within 10 years it was clear that English law was widely regarded as fair and just. The decision arose out of a number of scandals about judicial bias and the following Royal Commission and its recommendations.

    My experience of Judges (I am a practising lawyer) is that they are incorruptible. As to your last sentence, I disagree. Many will take the wage that comes with a job they enjoy and live the life that their wage permits rather than envy or consistently hanker after more.

  22. TM

    ‘My experience of Judges (I am a practising lawyer) is that they are incorruptible.’ If that is the case, they can afford to be can’t they?

    ‘Many will take the wage that comes with a job they enjoy and live the life that their wage permits rather than envy or consistently hanker after more.’ Well, it seems that there are many rich people who own businesses that dodge tax, pay low wages and try to charge as much as they can, and still never seem satisfied. Greed is the problem, but not everyone is greedy I grant you. And I may add that both rich and poor can be greedy too. The rich are not any worse than any other selfish greedy person, but when a person has millions or even billions and still wants more, that is an addiction, the only addiction we seem to enshrine as something good. An addiction all the same, with bitter consequences for many of us.

  23. evanprice

    “They have a collective moral responsibility to reject it at a time when public finances are very tight.”

    Really?

    “We arenot in a normal situation. It ought to have taken into account the straitened circumstances of public finances. It failed to do so.”

    But IPSA have explained that the ‘cost’ of the increase in pay is ‘paid for’ by the reductions in pensions and other benefits …

    Why is it that we are concentrating on the ‘pay’ for MPs but when it comes to other people, we concentrate on the ‘package’?

  24. TM

    Because they are telling everyone else to accept austerity, whilst they have been awarded an 11% pay rise that’s why. It is unacceptable at this time when 500,000 people are going to food banks are 1000s of pensioners die each year unable to heat their homes. If it’s not immoral, it is badly timed at the very least.

  25. Angiepooos

    Seriously? £65K for a job in London is simply not enough to attract good people. It isn’t, as you say, an ‘eye watering’ amount and how patronising to say it’s equivalent to a lottery win for a ‘working class kid’. It’s peanuts for London’s serious jobs. If you truly want fair representation across all of society you have to pay at least £120K so that we can attract MPs who are prepared to accept the lousy job security, can Live in or near London and no longer have to rely on family money or second jobs. Truth is without those second jobs we’d have nothing BUT rich ex-public schoolboys. It’s an important job and I would want to reward people to do it well. Why scrimp on these people who make all the decisions that affect our lives.

  26. Frankly

    What about MP’s having a performance related pay, or payments for results, payments for when an MP achives what they promised in their election manifesto? What about putting MP jobs out to tender, so if others feel they can do a better job for less pay, then they should be considered for the post. Being an MP with a second job is so very lucrative, why don’t we have them paying us to be MP’s? There are 650 MP’s in Parliament and about another 800 in the house of lords/peers, not to mention the Scotish and N.Irish parliaments and the Welsh assembly. Why do we have to have pay so many, so much, to run such a small country like the UK? Answer is:- We don’t!

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