So do MPs deserve a 10% pay rise to £74,000 per annum?

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Posted Jun 9 2015 by Peter Richardson of Lowimpact.org
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There is an argument [see the Guardian, for example] currently going on about whether Westminster MPs deserve the 10% pay rise that they’ve been awarded, bringing a back-bencher’s salary up to £74,000.

MPs and their sympathisers are saying that £74,000 is still too little, because it’s less than GPs, council chief execs, and some headteachers earn.  To attract ‘quality’ people to parliament, they argue, we have to pay MPs at a level that ‘quality’ people would earn elsewhere in public service or business.

Well frankly, I’m a quality person (Oxford educated, PhD etc) and I get by on about £10,000 a year – in common with lots of activists, artists, part time teachers, veg growers etc, not to mention the hordes of carers and other low paid workers in the UK for whom even the living wage of £7.85 per hour would be a nice pay rise.   I would be willing and able to do the job of an MP, and I wouldn’t need or want even half their current salary.

We shouldn’t be debating a pay rise for MPs, we should be debating a pay cut from their current £67,066.   That is an astronomical sum, on top of which they are paid living expenses for their second home in London.   So, how far should we cut MPs pay?    I would suggest cutting it and keeping it at the level of UK average (median) earnings, roughly £27,000 per year.    The argument for MPs living on a typical UK wage seems overwhelming – how else are they going to understand the effects of their decisions on typical citizens who don’t employ nannies, use private health care, travel first class, own second homes and so on?

The capitalist argument often used to justify low pay for some groups of workers is one of supply and demand.  Lots of people are willing to work as a care assistant for £6.50 per hour, so that is the ‘market rate’.   Well, there is no shortage of people competing to be MPs – even with pay cut to a realistic level, there would still be a queue of able and committed people wanting to do the job of representing their fellow citizens in parliament.  We don’t, after all, think that we have to pay jury members, school governors, local councillors or charity trustees huge salaries to get the job done by the right ‘quality’ of person – they all do their vital role in society for little or nothing.

I think that paying MPs the average UK wage makes total sense, but what other options might there be?  On the one hand, how about paying MPs the Living Wage, which would equate to about £16,000 per year for a 40 hour week.  Or, if we’re going to be generous, let’s pay them the salary of a typical social worker or vicar, whose job is fairly comparable in terms of work and responsibility.

I really don’t get the often repeated argument that MPs should be paid ‘at least as much as a headteacher’.  Where does that comparison come from?  A headteacher is responsible for a staff of maybe 60 people, and the education of maybe 1000 pupils.  MPs, on the other hand, manage a staff of 1 or 2, and far from being in charge of anything,  often simply follow the instructions of their party whips on how to vote when legislating.   Or how about the comparison with GPs salaries… to get a job as a GP you have to get into medical school (not easy), then train for years and years, then work your way up as a ‘junior’ doctor – but to get a job as an MP you can simply secure yourself a Labour or Conservative or SNP party nomination in a safe seat, no experience required.

While we think about exactly how far to cut MPs pay, let’s join the 384,000 people who have signed the change.org petition against the MPs’ current pay rise [https://www.change.org/p/david-cameron-stop-the-11-pay-rise-for-mps-salaries] – that’s a start, at least.