Foregone conclusions… Pretty soon, we should hear whether the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority will raise MPs’ basic salaries from £67,060 to £74,000. They held a final consultation on the pay hike in June, in the spirit of allowing people to speak now or forever hold their peace. But the outcome seems to be of the foregone variety. Only “new and compelling evidence” will turn IPSA against this measure, which had been determined by two previous reviews and consultations. “We have not, so far, seen any new circumstances that materially alter the determination that we reached then.”
…and the arguments for them… For the sake of context, I thought I’d publish a graph that IPSA uses to support its case. It compares MPs’ salaries with average earnings from when MPs’ salaries were first introduced. Back then, those salaries were 5.66 times higher than what the average person earnt, quickly dropping as that average person started earning more, and then rising again after the recession of 1920-21. And similar fluctuations have continued ever since, until we reach the current figure of 2.68. This is actually the lowest it has been since 1996, and lower than the overall average of 3.00. Historically speaking, IPSA has a point.
…and more arguments. There are other metrics that IPSA likes to point out. Did you know that an MP’s “total reward” (basic salary plus other benefits, such as pension arrangements) is only 86 per cent of a high-ranking headteacher’s in the state sector? Or 70 per cent of a senior civil servant’s? Or 71 per cent of a middling private sector director’s? Putting aside the question of whether these proportions are fair – fairness is a capricious yardstick – there are certainly better paid jobs that (some) MPs could do. Hence why IPSA wants to “restore MPs’ pay to an appropriate and professional level.”
A sense of wrongness. There are facts to put up against IPSA’s facts, such as that people aren’t put off becoming MPs by the salary but by the high costs of standing in the first place. But there is also the general sense that this pay rise is an insensitive, even destructive, thing to do whilst public spending is being pruned back and whilst trust in Parliament is at a low ebb. This, of course, is why many MPs don’t want to touch it with a bargepole. Yet they will have to, even if just to push it away, because IPSA’s decisions are final. Had IPSA waited a few years, it could have been different. They haven’t, so it’s not.
Passions matter. This is one of the unspoken dangers of independent bodies. They are meant to be dispassionate arbiters of what is right, but passions matter too. Looked at purely through the lens of graphs and numbers, IPSA has a strong case for raising MPs’ pay. Yet – despite our reliance on them for this To The Point series – graphs and numbers never tell us everything.