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MPs are paid to fear inflation and not care about unemployment

Want to know what an MP cares about? Look at their pay packet.

New Statesman

FullFact.org has put together highlighted a chart made by IPSA showing MPs pay in real terms over the last hundred years. Since 1911, when it was introduced at a rate of £400 per year, the pay of elected representatives has fluctuated between six times, and one and a half times, the average wage in the UK. It currently sits a little over two-and-a-half times higher:

As a reminder of what we've historically considered a fair wage for MPs, it's useful, especially in the context of the continued debate over IPSA's decision to award a pay rise. We can see, for instance, that the vast majority of MPs, elected in 2001 or later, are earning less than they every have before in real terms. But for the 100 or so oldest MPs, in office since before 1992, they've had the experience of being much poorer.

But there's something else which is worth noticing, which is how badly hit MPs were by the inflation of the 1960s and 1970s. Between 1962 and 1976, MPs pay fell from 4.5 times the average wage to double it; and that despite two pay rises in the interim period.

Everyone earning a salary is hit by inflation to some extent. But MPs are in the category of workers who are hit hardest. They don't have the annual pay rises typical in many industries; they have no ability to negotiate individually in response to changed circumstances; they can't leave for a better paid job without completely switching industry; and so on. And that's even before you take into account the unique peculiarities of their situation: asking for a pay rise due to inflation is a bad idea if the inflation is seen as your fault to start with.

So MPs, as a class, actually have more to fear from inflation than most other people. (To a certain extent, offloading the job of setting their pay to IPSA has made things slightly easier, but as the latest fuss shows, a pay rise is still a PR disaster.) And that explains a lot about the hawkish attitude of most MPs.

Conversely, MPs are also the one group who have no (direct, financial) reason to fear recession or high unemployment. Their pay is set free of market forces, and, while they might not see much of a rise in lean times, they can be pretty certain it won't be cut in nominal terms. That's a comfort few employees have. And they are absolutely certain that, no matter how bad the business environment, they won't be let go because their organisation can't afford to keep them on.

All of which means that the economics of being an MP are directly aligned with a tendency to over-value inflation, and undervalue growth, in setting priorities for the country. In so far as the new Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney can fight that consensus, he should; but IPSA could have a role to play as well. In deciding what to do with MPs pay, they could look at a wider economic index of how the country is doing. That way, MPs would know that getting their dinner relies on everyone else getting theirs.