In what now seems like a regular occurrence, MPs will soon be enjoying yet another pay rise. This time, it’s a 1.8 per cent hike to give them a total salary of £77,379 a year.
The rise, which comes into play on April Fool’s Day (just a coincidence, of course), has been met with predictable criticism when compared with the public sector pay freeze and a country struggling with years of percisent austerity.
In fact MPs’ pay packets have swelled every single year over the past seven years, and in that time have increased by an eye-watering £11,600.
And that’s just the basic rate of pay. MPs get paid more for some jobs including chairing select committees – which does come with a significant amount of extra work, £15,509 a year’s worth apparently. The speaker and ministers are also paid extra, though ministers’ pay has been frozen since 2010.
A salary of £77,379 a year is an undeniably huge amount of money, and way above the national average. But let’s be clear: MPs do not set their own pay. They do not vote on their own pay, and they have no say over any changes.
Since 2011, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) has been responsible for determining MPs’ pay. The only way MPs could vote for their own pay would be to vote to remove IPSA’s pay-setting powers, which isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.
IPSA’s independence is supposed to allow pay to be set in a less controversial and fairer way. (Whether they’re actually managing that is debatable.)
So is £77k a year fair?
IPSA explain that they adjust MPs’ pay at the same rate as changes in public sector earnings. But that measure includes promotions and bonuses. This means this year’s rise of 1.8 per cent is nearly double the 1 per cent pay cap imposed on public sector since 2013. However, it’s still well below inflation at 3 per cent.
Late last year, Theresa May promised an end to the 1 per cent pay cap, but NHS staff and police are still waiting to find out how much their pay will rise from April, and there’s no guarantee it’ll be as much as the 1.8 per cent MPs will get.
Then there’s the fact that compared to most workers, MPs are highly paid to begin with. The average worker earned £512 a week before tax in December 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics (the figure is seasonally adjusted). From April, an MP will earn £77,379 a year, or £1,488 a week, when divided by 52 weeks of the year. While it’s a rough comparison, MPs are on almost three times as much as the average worker.
Even some MPs don’t think that some of their pay rises are justified. In 2015, when MPs were awarded a £7,000 pay rise, 65 of them pledged to donate that money to charity. (In what may not come as a complete shock, only 25 of them ended up doing so – you can find the list here.)
There are also broader questions about MPs’ pay: everyone should be able to have a crack at running for public office if they want to – and pay shouldn’t hinder that. Wages shouldn’t discourage those who have dependants, or other expenses from standing for election. However, the same issue of access could (and should) be argued for every job.
How do Westminster salaries compare to the devolved legislatures? In terms of baseline salary, Scottish MSPs are paid £61,778 a year, Welsh Assembly members are on £65,344, and Northern Ireland MLAs will be on £50,000 from 1 April 2018 – although the Northern Ireland secretary has been advised to cut salaries by £13,612 in the absence of a sitting Assembly.
MPs do often have to juggle two lives in Westminster and their own constituencies. But the costs involved won’t come out of their pocket: MPs’ expenses cover having somewhere to live in London and in their constituency, as well as travelling between the two.
Defenders of the status quo point out that a low salary could lead to MPs being more likely to take bribes, while an especially high salary could attract the types more likely to accept them. Analysis by the Guardian compared parliamentary wages and corruption in several countries, but found a weak correlation. So this year’s pay rise of £1,368 is unlikely to make a huge impact on that front.
So there’s no doubt that MPs are on a pretty hefty salary, and that the hike is more than many are looking forward to. All things considered, is it fair? Like most things in life, unfortunately probably not.