What should MPs get paid?

According to this very reliable poll at LBC 97.3FM, mostly people feel that MPs should be paid less than what they now get.

Contrast this to the question not asked, could you live on £67 a week? That’s what benefit claimants usually get. Considered simply on straight pound-for-pound dealing, an MP gets over 18 times what a benefit claimant gets. But of course even an honest MP who follows the rules and doesn’t try to jigger the system, can get far more than that – a taxpayer-funded flat in Westminister, handy for Parliament: £400 a month to pay for food, no questions asked: no question of having salary or benefits docked if caught cheating.

Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, spent thousands on furnishing his London home before “flipping” his Commons allowance to a new property in his Surrey constituency, and claiming £13,000 in moving costs.

Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, claimed almost £35,000 in two years for mortgage interest payments on a London flat when he owned a house just a few hundred yards away.

Oliver Letwin, Minister of State for Government Policy, claimed more than £2,000 for a leaking pipe to be replaced under his tennis court.

(The Rt Hon. Desmond Swayne, who was in the lowest 10 of MP expenses in 2009 (he said he routinely takes the train into London from his Hampshire constituency after 10am to get the cheapest fare) isn’t a minister – he’s Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, a role which gives him no Ministerial clout but ensures he will be required to vote with and not speak against the Government.)

When he was free to speak, he said: “The world is in a pretty bad state, people starving, homeless, jobless and we members of Parliament are put in a position of influence at this time, and what did we do? We enjoyed the full benefit of our allowances. I suspect that the most ghastly chamber in hell is being reserved for us.”

Aside from nonsense about unpaid MPs, Peter Oborne’s article in the Telegraph on expenses was great.

My response:

If MPs are unpaid, only the independently wealthy can afford to become MPs. Given how lucrative being an MP is if you want it to be, and given how greedy the top 1% are, making the job of representating ordinary people in Parliament one that only the very rich could aspire to would simply ensure that the very rich used it to become mega-rich.

MPs deserve to receive a reasonable salary and have reasonable expenses paid. The salary ought to correspond to what the average person gets paid – I think the median salary for the UK is of the order of £25K a year – and expenses should include two paid assistants, one for the Westminister office and one for the contituency. Good hiring practices for these posts should be followed – no just awarding the job to spouse or offspring. Ex-MPs ought to be banned for up to five years from sitting on the board of any commercial organisation, and for life if they held a Ministerial post.

And fairly obviously, of course expenses should be tracked and accountable in the ordinary way. No one should just get to demand cash without having to show what they spent it on.

It’s reasonable that an MP with a constituency in a distant part of the UK should have a place to stay in London near to Parliament, but the present “second home” system is an invitation to make money. When an MP loses their seat, they should be required to let their Westminster home go to public ownership, not get to keep it as a kind of golden parachute.

How can anyone who’s getting paid £65,000 a year and is so confident of their right to claim benefits on top of that, understand the desperation of someone struggling to survive?

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Filed under Benefits, Politics, Poverty

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