Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Who do they think they are?

In 2010, just after the coalition government had been sworn in both George Osborne and David Cameron told us of the austerity measures that were to come. “There is no alternative” they cried, which of course we now know was not true. As if to offer us some kind of comfort they declared “we’re all in it together” also not true. The first thing George Osborne did was hike the rate of VAT up, from 17.5% to 20% and then gave a tax break to high income earners by reducing the top rate of tax, which is payable only by those earning more than £150,000 per year from 45% to 40%. He also imposed a pay freeze for five years on all public sector workers, which will now in all likelihood last until 2020.

Fast forward 3 years and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) who are responsible for MP’s pay, benefits and expenses announce a cut in MP’s benefits, but a pay rise of £7,000 or 10% to compensate for their loss. While there was widespread support for the reform of MP’s over generous pensions and tightening of the rules on what can and cannot be claimed for in expenses, there was equally strong objection to the proposed pay rise for MP’s. The announcement from IPSA came despite their own public  consultation indicating that 88% of respondents were opposed to the pay rise. Even David Cameron called for IPSA to reconsider. Despite a further two reviews, IPSA have announced that unless they receive compelling evidence against the pay rise it will go ahead as from 30th June and be backdated to April.

I wonder just how out of touch with reality does an independent body have to be to grant a pay award to MP’s at a time with the whole of the nation are suffering our governments’ austerity measures. IPSA claims that MP’s salary is below the average of others working in the public sector. However in 2014 the average salary in Britain was £26,500 per year. Even in the top decile of earners, the average annual salary is £60,500. MP’s currently earn £67,070, which is substantially more than the vast majority of people in Britain. What more compelling evidence could IPSA want than the fact that 88% of people have declared their objections? While some have stated their support for the pay rise, other MP’s have publically condemned it including John Mann and Nicky Morgan.

As if rubbing salt in the wound, IPSA also say that after the pay award, MP’s salaries will be linked to average earnings increases. Using predictions from the Office for Budget Responsibility, MP’s salaries would rise from £67,070 to almost £86,000 by 2019. The Independent Pay Review Body (IPRB) recommended a measly 1% pay rise for all NHS staff last year, but it was rejected by MP’s, so why can’t this recommendation from IPSA be rejected in the same way? The answer is simple. It’s because the vast majority of MP’s welcome the proposal, despite the public objections of a few. David Cameron would see his annual salary rise from £142,000 to £154,000 and as his pension is tied to his final salary, of course he wants the rise also, regardless of what he says in public. The fact is MP’s could block this pay rise in a heartbeat, but they don’t want to. Instead they blame the “independent” body IPSA and make a few noises of objection in public. But the truth is the vast majority want this pay rise to go ahead.

I am well aware there are a number of MP’s who work very hard to represent their constituents and if there is a pay rise on offer, they deserve it. However, over the past few years we have heard of a number of MP’s getting up to all sorts. In 2009 we found out that some of them had been stealing from us, while many others were bending the rules for their own financial gain. We have had numerous scandals where MP’s were caught offering access to senior ministers in return for large donations to their political party, cash for access, cash for questions and MP’s offering to lobby in parliament on behalf of private international corporations. Although nothing has yet been proven, allegations are rife about a Westminster paedophile ring, including current politicians. There have also been allegations of governments having acted to cover up and protect MP’s. Most recently we have had an MP eventually admit he had lied about leaking an untruthful article regarding SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and one MP in an attempt to defend the accused declared that the House of Commons would empty very quickly if all MP’s who lie were sacked.

We have endured cuts to social care that have meant some elderly people are unable to leave their home, have a daily wash and get dressed. Welfare support for the most vulnerable and disabled in our society has been slashed. People are being forced to represent themselves in court against highly paid and well qualified legal experts because of cuts to the legal aid budget. People are being forced to take on low paid work, just to have some money coming in. More than 1million others are depending on food banks just to feed their families. Another 3.5million people are starving themselves so their children can eat and right here in Britain, the nation with the sixth richest economy in the world, we have 4.1million children living in poverty.

Meanwhile, our MP’s are to receive a 10% pay increase. What kind of democracy is that?

I do not begrudge anyone who works hard and does a good job a decent salary. So I suggest that MP’s pay be set by their constituents and linked to performance. As it is in the vast majority of jobs in the private sector, we could have a set of pay scales drawn up, ranging from the lowest which would be base pay to the highest representing an MP whom their constituents felt had outperformed their expectations of them. This would provide a strong incentive for MP’s to work hard for their constituents and act in the interests of those they were elected to serve. Equally, it would build a stronger relationship between constituents and MP’s, who would have to spend more time meeting and getting to know the concerns of their constituents. Inevitably, MP’s who do not serve well or meet the needs of their constituents would see this poor performance reflected in their salary. This system is exactly how the vast majority of workers salaries are decided and it is how we should be deciding our MP’s salary. Handing control of MP’s salary to those they work for would be fairer and more democratic.

This is how it would be done in a true democracy.

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