Will MPs’ pay rise outstrip public sector workers’?

Parliamentary pay watchdog requests power to ‘vary the award below or above’ public sector pay

An NHS nurse
(Image credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

MPs could be handed pay rises above those of public sector workers under new powers suggested by the Westminster watchdog.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) has proposed that it could “vary the [MPs’ annual pay] award below or above” public sector pay.

The recommendation comes “in a week that tens of thousands of public sector workers across the country have seen their pay frozen”, The Telegraph says, while nurses were offered a 3% pay rise prompting anger from their union.

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Pay power

For the past five years, Ipsa has set MPs’ pay and linked it to public sector pay every October. Members of Parliament are currently paid £81,932 a year and Ipsa froze pay for the 2021/22 financial year in the light of the Covid pandemic.

However, the new powers would mean Ipsa would not have to peg an MP’s pay to public sector rates and will now go to a “four-week consultation” that could see the regulator handed the “new powers to set MPs’ pay for the 2022/23 financial year”, The Telegraph reports.

The watchdog said it should be given greater scope over setting MPs’ income because the pandemic meant the annual October figure comparisons could be a “much less reliable guide to changes in earnings than they are in ordinary times”.

It also insists that the powers would mean it could reduce the pay award, stating “we think it is more likely that we would be making a downward adjustment”.

A source told the paper that it was unlikely that the regulator would decide to increase MPs’ pay above the rate agreed for public sector workers.

Money talks

Comparisons between pay rises for MPs and those for nurses and other public sector workers have always proven to be incendiary. Nurses are expected to reject a 3% pay rise offered this week as too low and may take industrial action in response.

Shadow health minister and frontline NHS worker Dr Rosena Allin-Khan yesterday asked on Sky News whether the offer was “really fair on NHS staff who have been sent like lambs to the slaughter without appropriate PPE to work”.

However, in March, Mental Health Minister Nadine Dorries responded to anger over the proposal for a pay rise of just 1% for nurses by saying that she “was pleasantly surprised that we were making an offer” at all.

Last year, when Ipsa was reported to be considering a 4.1% pay rise for MPs worth £3,300, Boris Johnson said he did not believe parliamentarians should receive the boost, calling on “the government to legislate to prevent the publicly damaging pay increase”, The Guardian reported at the time.

“MPs’ salaries are obviously decided by an independent body but given the circumstances, the PM doesn’t believe MPs should be receiving a pay rise,” his spokesperson said.

Those who argue for MPs to be paid more often point to the fact that the salary paid to MPs “directly correlates with the calibre of people who decide to enter, and remain, in Parliament,” says PoliticsHome.

However, opponents of a rise say that increasing MP salaries would only serve to attract individuals into politics for the wrong reasons, namely the financial rewards of the role, as opposed to a public service ethos.

At the start of last year, the salary for an MP was just under three times higher than the national average salary in the UK.

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