A few days ago the media reported that MPs had called for a 32% pay rise for themselves. The figure actually came from a survey of MPs conducted by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, the body responsible for setting MPs’ salaries. BBC Radio 4’s PM programme dutifully rang round and found an MP prepared to give an interview on the matter—Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire. If you’re quick you can hear Mr Bridgen’s musings (about 33min 25 seconds in, or listen on AudioBoo), but for those of you that missed it here’s a brief transcript of a part I’d like concentrate on:
A man or a woman who’s very capable, doing well in their profession, whatever that may be, with a family, are they going to be willing to take that pay cut and look their children in the eye when it’s Christmas and you can’t have what you normally have because mummy or daddy wants to be an MP. Umm, there’s a whole load of people who will not be able to be MPs. You either have to have people who think that £65,000 is a lot of money, or people for whom £65,000 is insignificant, and the vast majority of the public are in the middle and they would struggle to be a member of parliament I think.
Setting aside the bizarre and emotive comments about children at Christmas let’s look at the idea that the “vast majority” of the public are “in the middle”, by which Mr Bridgen presumably means they neither consider £65,000 to be insignificant, nor do they consider it to be a lot of money.
If Mr Bridgen is talking about the national debt then I would be inclined to the view that £65,000 is insignificant, but it seems pretty clear from the context—a discussion about MPs’ salaries—that he is not. He is talking about salaries. On the first point, then, instinctively I agree with him. I have no evidence to back this up, but a hunch that if I were to do the research I would indeed find that the vast majority of the public do not consider £65,000 to be an insignificant salary.
On the second point, however, I think he just may be a little out of touch. Do the “vast majority” of the public really not consider £65,000 to be a “lot of money” in the context of salaries? Of course, I can’t go out and ask the whole of the public, but with a properly designed survey drawing on a large enough representative sample I could find out. And as luck would have, just such a survey exists.
Since 1983 the British Social Attitude survey has been conducted annually, involving in depth interviews with 3,000 respondents selected using random probability sampling to ensure that the results are representative of the British population. In 2009 the survey asked the question “What is a large income (per year)?”. And when the results have been appropriately weighted to allow them to be generalised to the whole population they are pretty clear.
82.7% of the British population consider £65,000 per year to be “a large income”.
Of course, “vast majority” is a somewhat subjective term, although objectively it must be greater than 50%. But I’d being willing to wager that if you asked the British public the vast majority would consider 82.7% to be a vast majority. And “a lot of money”, in the context of salary, is not exactly the same as “a large income”, but it’s as near as damn it.
This is just one MP and his views on one subject. It’s impossible to generalise from this, but it is pretty clear that on this issue Andrew Bridgen is completely out of touch with the British public.
He goes on to argue that
There’s no doubt that over the past 20 years MPs’ pay has not kept pace with the Civil Servants they were pegged at 20 years ago.
This statement too is somewhat dubious. It is actually not quite 20 years—MPs’ pay was pegged to that of senior Civil Servants following a full review of pay and expenses in 1996. In each year between 1996 and 2007 it increased by the same amount as the midpoint on the senior Civil Servants pay scale. Except for 2001 and 2002. In these years MPs’ got an additional £2,000 in their pay rise. Since 2008 MPs’ pay has been linked to a basket of 15 groups of public service workers. It has risen by 1.5% since April 2009, a period over which there has been a public sector pay freeze. This blog suggests that over the past 20 years MPs’ pay has increased relative to the mean salary in the country. And data collated on the Guardian’s data blog suggests that between 1989 and 2008 MPs’ salaries as a proportion of the national mean rose by 9% (from 193% to 211% of the mean).
There may be good reasons to pay MPs more, but Andrew Bridgen certainly hasn’t found them, and frankly nobody with such a fragile grasp of facts should be paid as much as he’s being paid now.
- Kelly, R, 2009. Members’ pay and allowances—a brief history [Online]. Standard Note SN/PC/05075. London: House of Commons Library. Available from: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/briefings/snpc-05075.pdf