SHOULD THE UK PAY ITS MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT MORE?

Antonio Dorileo

The debate around MPs and their remuneration – the gift that keeps on giving for the media, and the black dog which constantly haunts the reputations of MPs – looks set to return.

It was recently revealed in an anonymous survey by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) that MPs believe they should be paid between £10,000 and £30,000 more, a significant rise of their current salaries of just under £66,000.

This revelation was decried in the media, particularly the tabloid press such as The Sun and The Mirror, as a prime example of the greed of our Members of Parliament. Had they learnt nothing from the expenses fiasco which began in 2009 and continues to expose potential or actual wrongdoing?

Although it may be unpopular to say so, MPs may be onto something. The UK is notoriously one of the most centralised countries in the world. Decisions that are usually taken in other countries at the State, Prefecture or Province level are taken by UK’s national representatives in the Nation’s Parliament. Countries such as Germany and France, which have powerful devolved elements, still provide their National Parliamentarians with salaries of approximately £125,000 and £139,000 respectively. This is all before expenses and allowances. In the USA where the importance of the States is sacrosanct, US Congressmen and women enjoy a salary of US$174,000, equating to around £108,000.

MPs act as local champions, community leaders, campaigners, caseworkers, strategists and most importantly legislators. They are expected to be seen in the Chamber, be at an event in their constituency and lobbying the Government on an enormous variety of issues all at the same time and they do all of this with a typical full time staff of three people. Compare this to our American cousins in the US House of Representatives who can each rely on their own Chiefs of Staff, Legislative Directors, Press Officers, Communications Directors, and various assistants and interns.

As these issues of overwork and underpay compound, they begin to take a toll on the people who as our elected representatives, make decisions which impact on us all.

In a candid look at the demands on the life of a Parliamentarian, a survey of MPs 12 months after the new 2010 intake showed that MPs said they would typically work 69 hours per week, doing nine hours or more a day – every day – as commitments in the constituency as well as Parliament occupied their time, which they found increasingly difficult to juggle. In addition, a book released in 2011 saw a psychologist suggest MPs should have regular checks on their mental health.

Some suggest that we get what we pay for, and analysis beyond the outrage of the expenses scandal has certainly raised MPs’ pay as a possible reason for their profligacy which led to their reputations breaking through rock bottom to find a new low. The ultimate aim in any country is to have a properly functioning democracy, which represents the people effectively. If we want to have better MPs, we may need to start forking out for it.

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