Five arguments against paying MPs lots of money

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) is likely to recommend on Friday that MPs receive an inflation-busting pay increase of £10,000.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) is likely to recommend on Friday that MPs receive an inflation-busting pay increase of £10,000.

The independent body, which ironically was set up so that MPs were not voting to increase their own pay, is expected to propose that MPs’ salaries rise from their current level of £65,738 to around £75,000. IPSA head Ian Kennedy is thought to prefer an even greater rise to £85,000.

Understandably many people are going to be incensed by this.

Update —————- As expected, the IPSA has today (11 July) recommended a pay rise for MPs of £8,000, taking their total pay to £74,000.

Here are five reasons why awarding MPs a pay rise is wrong.

1) People often argue that paying MPs more attracts the best people to serve the country, and to an extent this is probably true. It would be counterproductive, after all, to make a job in parliament prohibitive to those without vast reserves of cash.

But surely paying MPs too much could also mean more people looking to enter parliament for reasons of self-interest.

When people argue that “the best people will go elsewhere because the money is better”, I want to reply that they can’t, then, really be the best people, for if they care so much about making pots of money (as opposed to serving the country) they probably aren’t the sorts of representatives we want.

2) MPs are already paid nearly three times the average UK full time salary. There are no fixed hours, you get a long summer break and you can retire at a time of your own choosing. You are also in most instances – unless you do something particularly egregious – guaranteed tenure for four to five years, something increasingly rare in our ‘flexible’ economy.

As someone who has worked in a number of poorly paid, insecure jobs in the past, I’m not sure I wish to play the world’s smallest violin on behalf of our MPs.

3) Most people are seeing their living standards squeezed and public sector workers have just seen annual pay rises limited to 1 per cent. The boring cliche has it that we’re “all in it together”. If MPs get a bumper pay rise, we obviously aren’t.

4) As an MP you are perfectly entitled to work as many hours as you like in a second job. Moonlighting, in other words. There are already questions over whether this should be allowed to continue (I believe it should not, for the reasons Mark Ferguson sets out in this excellent post at Labour List), but while it is going on (according to recent analysis, Conservative MPs declared more than £4.3m in earnings from outside directorships or jobs, versus £2.4m for Labour) MPs do not need a pay rise.

As for the argument that MPs only have second jobs because they aren’t paid enough, see point two.

5) A very large salary ensures that the travails of everyday life which most people have to contend with are all the more incomprehensible to our MPs.

When socialists used to promise that if elected they would only draw the wage of an average worker, they weren’t merely striking a pose. The more money you have the more you can insulate yourself from social problems like crime, inequality and exploitation. The class system still exists, and people tend to want to look after people most like themselves.

Why suppose this would be any different for our MPs?

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23 Responses to “Five arguments against paying MPs lots of money”

  1. John Ellison

    How can IPSA possibly be independent? It’s part of the state sector, just like MPs. Only those in the private sector can be truly independent. As for the current lot of MPs being the best we can find to serve the country (however you define ‘country’), it just shows how standards throughout life have fallen over the last few decades. If I were running a business, and they applied for jobs there, most of them would get nowhere near an interview, never mind being hired by me.

  2. LB

    Pretty good arguments.

    1. How many Labour MPs practice what they preach e.g. Average wages. Skinner perhaps, except he has massive expenses. Window dressing.

    2. Bring in the right of recall. Then we can get the troughers

    3. The lords – We’ve no control what so ever.

    4. The biggie

    The more money you have the more you can insulate yourself from social problems like crime, inequality and exploitation.

    However, you carry on insisting that we tax the poor. You take money they contribute for their pension, and spend it. For a median wage earner, that’s a loss of 475,000 pounds.

    Now if they had been forced to invest that money, they would have been insulated from social problems like crime, inequaltiy, and exploitation.

    You’ve just exploited them, and since you won’t put the pensions on the accounts you’ve defrauded them of 475K. See sections 1-5, 2006 fraud act for the details.

  3. JR

    Fair arguments, but there needs to be more of a solution put forward than has been done so far, by anyone. The current pay issue is not sustainable,

    MPs need to be in touch with the issues faced by voters. They
    also understand that at a time of public pay restraint, it is essential not to
    be seen as a special case. The response of many MPs, at least publicly, emphasises
    the damage that will be done by significant pay increases. It is also important
    to look at why we are where we are.

    Expenses were introduced, and abused, in part because pay had
    previously been kept at levels seen as unreasonable by many MPs. Party leaders
    have said that significant increases are unreasonable, but privately
    many MPs will support an increase.

    Do they have a right to feel hard done to? Probably not,
    especially given the current state of pay in the UK. MPs already know the danger
    here. However, we must also remember why MPs are paid at all – to ensure that
    those from any background can represent their community, rather than just those
    with money.

    Banning or limiting second jobs is a much stronger response to concerns about conflicts of interest than having a long running argument about paying public servants.

    If people with power are not paid in a transparent and accountable
    way they will not be trusted. If they are not paid in line with their
    responsibility, time commitments and public exposure, they may look elsewhere
    for money anyway. This is much less likely to be transparent and will be more of a conflict of interest than being paid for the job they are supposed to be doing.

  4. Blueblanket

    650 people can be MPs at a time. Each seat is typically contested at election time by between three and six candidates, occasionally as many as 15 or 22. And those are just the ones who successfully get through their party’s selection process.

    Surely the laws of supply and demand should apply here? With such a glut of candidates, we should actually be able to reduce MP salaries until equilibrium is reached.

    I’m not convinced there would be any shortage of people willing to do the job for free, but to avoid it becoming – sorry, that should be remaining – a rich boys’ hobby, some sort of basic stipend would be required. This could be set at JSA/workfare level, to reflect the fact that MPs are glorified community service volunteers, with additional necessary expenses such as travel (properly monitored and itemised of course) reimbursed in arrears or paid direct by the House authorities. An official parliamentary hotel could also be booked or built in Westminster to accommodate members from outside London free of charge, obviating the possibility of any of the publicly-funded property speculation we’ve seen in recent years.

    Why should running the country be a moneyspinner? Make it a vocation and see who wants to do the job for its own sake.

  5. JR

    Interesting perspective – but isn’t that a version what we have already?

    It seems that you are just arguing that the stipend should be lower, and that out of London MPs should be quartered together.

    Given what you state – one might assume that the ‘rich boys’ who do it as a hobby will shun the communal barracks and buy their own flats, avoiding the hardship you seem to be advocating.

    I am not sure that this would be seen as fair. MPs from across the country should be allowed the same privacy to work so that North West / East constituencies are as well represented in Parliament as those from London, or by rich boys with private London houses.

    This will be especially important if payment for the job is nominal.

    I would recommend including some sort of mortgage allowance into your scheme so that different areas of the country are not disadvantage. This should possibly include expenses for furniture etc…

  6. Cole

    Obviously it’s idiotic. But so is all pay at the higher levels: outrageously overpaid bankers, bonuses for FTSE bosses who do a lousy job, big pay offs for BBC bureaucrats – and a 5% increase for rhe Queen. Meanwhile, the rest of the population faces declining living standards

  7. johnfwoods

    I disagree with all of your arguments. We need to pay people who represent us sufficient salary to be able to live in London and maintain a family in their constituency (which is required nowadays). They employ a staff of up to four people on expenses and run an office. I know they get free travel to their constituency but anyone who has to travel knows how expensive life is. And £10,000 if about an increase of 3% per annum since they got their last increase.

  8. David Marriott

    My favourite argument against an increase is my MP Dennis Skinner saying “you won’t stave
    on £66,000 a year”

  9. NilsBoray

    If people are unable to stand for parliament because they can not afford to, or unable to do the job because they are insufficiently wealthy, then MPs will be almost entirely made up of the independently wealthy who have no need to work to maintain their living standards.

    It seems to me to be self evident that if we are to make our parliament freely accessible to all citizens then we should set the recompense for members at a level which ensures that the poorest members can comfortably exercise their duties at least as easily as the richest, without worrying about financial obstacles.

    It seems clear also that we should not reward our MPs too highly – if the financial rewards of being an MP become an end in themselves, then it would make for a rather mercenary parliament.

    That an MP’s salary is well above the national average is hardly the point – A London headteacher is likely to earn considerably more than an MP (I know because I have done) – which to me seems unfair. It seems strange also that an elected member should be paid less than appointed civil servants who are putting the policies of parliament into practice.

  10. Alec

    We need to pay people who represent us sufficient salary to be able to live in London and maintain a family in their constituency (which is required nowadays).

    One way around that would be either to provide a gated accommodation block, or either not to permit mortgage payments on new properties or to require a proportion of any profit on subsequent sales to be forfeit. No flipping by the likes of Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper who were able to climb the property ladder at the state’s expense.

    They employ a staff of up to four people on expenses and run an office.

    Not from their basic salary.

    I know they get free travel to their constituency but anyone who has to travel knows how expensive life is.

    Compare and contrast. My Westminster constituency – Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross – which is the size of Delaware (with bloody awful public transport) and a city centre constituency with everything within half an hour’s walk.


  11. Alec

    But who’d have wanted to have the next room to Eric Joyce?

  12. Efrogwraig

    Oh yes, MPs made to live in blocks. Let’s punish them further. As well as making this block a complete target for terrorists, general demonstrators or just anyone who has a beef. Also Yvette Cooper & Ed Balls have children. How would this be accommodated in a “student block” ?

  13. Alec

    I’d accept punishments which would make your eyes water for a combined income of just shy of £300k.

    As well as making this block a complete target for terrorists, general demonstrators or just anyone who has a beef.

    What? Like the Palace of Westminster? Then again, I suppose even the MI6 building has been bombed… no, wait, that was James Bond.

    As for Balls and Cooper’s children, they could remain in their home constituency.

  14. johnfwoods

    The main issue with paying MP’s is the expertise that Tories have with their expenses. Take Francis Maude and Liam Fox. Both owned houses (without mortgages) within walking distance of Westminster (or so the Guardian says) and you can only claim for the interest on mortgage repayments. Maude rented out his house and bought a flat with a £25,000 a year (maximum allowed) mortgage. He then had the rent on his house and a flat paid for by the taxpayer. Fox had improvements done to his house to allow one of his friends to have accommodation within the house and raised a mortgage of £185,000 to do this (the mortgage interest is reclaimable). Both of these men are rich beyond the dreams of 95% of the population. Forget Margaret Becket who charged the erection of a Pergola at her constituency residence against expenses (I had to pay for my own Pergola out of taxed income) and then claimed for the hanging baskets to decorate it.
    Let us sweep away all these methods whereby MP’s can claim for expenditures that are not even tax allowable expenses for the rest of us (lunch, dinner, travel within the UK (excepting the constituency), clothing allowances (excepting the Speaker). As for accommodation, I accept that accommodation should be subsidised for MP’s living more than an hours travel from Westminster, but this should never be more than housing benefit for a single person living within an hours travel from Westminster.

  15. johnfwoods

    There is no shortage of people wanting to be MP’s but as we can see with George Osborne and many of his colleagues, there is a grave shortage of people who can do the job effectively. Any other chancellor who had failed to restore the economy in three years would have been sacked and, like Norman Lamont, been sent to the back benches. However, he is a chum of the PM, as is Jeremy Hunt, and one does not sack chums. All three of these people are millionaires. How did it ever arise that we are governed by Public School boys?

  16. Julie Ward

    When asked to stand as a Labour MEP candidate for the NW recently i thought a lot about what I was being asked to do; “Redefining Public Service” became central to my campaign as so many people have lost faith with politics & politicians that we won’t get a good turn out unless we rebuild trust & then the far-right extremists will benefit from our disorganisation. I printed my leaflets in April before all the MEP/MP salary & expenses furore hit the news catching the zeitgeist of the moment, with one of my pledges being to ask my constituents to set a fair wage for me if I should become elected. It seems to me that being a politician is a vocation a bit like teaching or nursing – something you do because you want to serve, not a job that is ever going to net you loads of dosh! Governments have never paid rank and file public servants well so why not apply similar principles to Westminster? I am standing for public office because I am angry with the way ordinary people are so under-represented. I never expected to get selected but now I am it’s a good place from which to posit a more ethical way of being a public servant. I would also like the party to create a level playing field for candidates. I was a late addition to the list and had no idea it would cost me money and that I would be in an unfair competition with candidates who had large campaign budgets paid for by unions. We are all union members and we are all members of the same party so we should be given an equal opportunity to communicate with fellow members. Finally I have discovered a theoretical framework for the kind of politics I believe is needed in order to restore faith in British democracy Ethics in Politics by a Swiss academic

  17. CaptainDallas

    Spot on, in fact this was the very argument used by Labour to deny Fire-fighters a pay rise.

    But then MPs don’t live in the same world we do.

  18. Gold Bug

    ….”enter parliament for reasons of self-interest.”
    Are you serious? That’s the reason they enter now. Expenses, consultants fees, directorships, freebies, index linked pensions, pay offs when they leave, jobs in Brussels, etc, etc. The whole point of politics is to steal from the outsiders and give to the insiders.

  19. Alexsandr

    if I am away from home for work I stay in a Travelodge or similar. I don’t expect to take the wife and kids.
    Why should MP’s?

  20. SonofBoudica

    You forget to mention that an MP can employ his wife as his PA or secretary and various other family members as “researchers” and so on. This massively increases the household income of an MP so that most of them are enjoying remuneration of four or five times the average salary.

  21. Duke_Bouvier

    As some people say below, the national average salary really isn’t a relevant benchmark – that is just rabble rousing. The kind of people who (a) have the personal motivation and social skills to get elected and (b) have the kinds of skills and intelligence to do the job well will if they bother to earn more than the national average wage.

    As was pointed out below, paying them £100k would only put them on par with a successful GP or head teacher. And this a job you have to re-apply for every 5 years.

    It is unrealistic to ask successful people who are not independently wealthy (or do not have a high earning spouse) to take a significant pay cut (especially when the unrecoverable out of pocket expenses are considered) at an age when they may often have children to raise.

    Which is why you find a lot of the wealthy, spouses of high earners, and people for whom the salary is a step up not a step down. A significant part of the pool of the most capable people is already excluded.

    This is all aside from issues of abuse of the expenses system – reform it, stop the egregious abuse, but lets not treat them like venal scum. If you think that, what it is the point of democracy at all.

  22. Daft Dave

    The “Independent Pay Bodies” set up to report on pay for teachers, civil servants and other public sector workers have often over the years recommended pay rises only for the government (of whatever party) to refuse to implement them because they were ‘un-affordable’; there is no reason why the rise put forward for MPs should be sanctioned.

  23. AB

    I agree. The first point is particularly important because it is often said that the level of pay determines the quality of candidate. While this is true in many jobs it does not reflect the dynamics of the process of becoming an MP.

    The single biggest determinant of candidate quality is the way in which Parties select candidates. A small proportion of very highly paid people might self-select themselves out of the running and never consider becoming MPs, but this must be a very small proportion given the backgrounds of many actual MPs. There does not seem to be any shortage of senior lawyers, accountants and management consultants coming forward as candidates. Pay will have some impact, but as with the selection of High Court Judges (who typically will see their income slashed by over two thirds when swapping the life of a busy QC for the Bench) the other aspects of the role tend to compensate; if anything the problem with judicial recruitment is getting more “ordinary” lawyers in solicitors firms doing less glamorous work to be in a place where they can realistically apply.

    There’s a similar problem in becoming a PPC – if you haven’t done the right amount of leafletting, or served as a councillor or been in a thinktank/union, it is difficult to get selected by any party. Being an activist or a councillor are both things which are probably hardest to find time to do if you are “ordinary” – ie on an average-ish wage, working hard and wanting to spend time with family and friends. If you have an employer who will support your political ambitions, that’s fine. But, outside the thinktanks/unions and public sector (subject to the rules limiting such activity), if you’re employed, few employers will see it as a priority.

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