How executive pay has soared

Executives have enjoyed pay increases of nearly 5,000 per cent in the last 30 years.

Thanks to the High Pay Commission, no one can now deny that Britain has a problem with executive pay. The body's final report was published today and it contains some remarkable data. In the case of Barclays, for instance, top pay is now 75 times that of the average worker, compared to 14.5 in 1979 (see table below). In the last 30 years, the lead executive's pay in Barclays has risen by 4,889.4 per cent - from £87,323 to an extraordinary £4,365, 636, while average pay has risen from £6,474 to just £25,900. The commission argues persuasively that excessive pay at the top has increased inequality, damaged trust in business, distorted the market and created instability.

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So, to quote Lenin, what is to be done? The body makes 12 recommendations to tackle high pay, including employee representation on remuneration committees, publishing the top 10 executive pay packages outside the boardroom, forcing companies to publish a pay ratio between the highest paid executive and the company median, and establishing a new permanent body to monitor high pay.

The initial response from the government is encouraging. Vince Cable, who launched a consultation into the issue in September, said:

Many of the options we are consulting on are reflected in the High Pay Commission's final report and we welcome their contribution to this important debate. The government will announce next steps early next year. In the last decade we have seen extreme increases in top executive pay which appear to be completely unrelated to the performance of companies. They are therefore acting against the interests of shareholders and consumers.

There is widespread consensus, not just among the public but in the business community, that this is unacceptable and is undermining the credibility of our markets-based system.

What I'm working towards is responsible capitalism where rewards are properly aligned with performance.

You don't have to be a Cuban communist, as corporate headhunter Dr Heather McGregor absurdly claimed on the Today programme this morning, to believe this is a problem. Should the government fail to act, Britain will become an even more unequal society. As the shocking graph below shows, based on current trends, the top 0.1 per cent will take home 14 per cent of national income by 2035, a level of inequality not seen since Victorian times.

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We know from The Spirit Level that the most unequal countries do worse on almost every quality of life indicator. They suffer from higher levels of violence, mental illness, obesity and teenage pregnancy, and lower levels of trust, child well-being and happiness. If Britain is to avoid even greater social unrest, the government must call time on the era of runaway rewards.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Paul McMillan
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"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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