Less than a quarter of Britons trust MPs. This worrying fact was published in an IPSOS/Mori poll in December 2013. If you polled the same people today, that figure would be below a fifth, thanks to the renewed scandal Maria Miller has brought to the Commons. Our perfectly innocent (according to the PM), Culture Secretary, made a minor mistake in the expenses she claimed to pay her mortgage interest, to the tune of £45,000. All the British public got in return was a 32 second apology, and Mrs Miller repaid a paltry £5,800 of the money she 'mistakenly' claimed.
Naturally, Mrs Miller's 'indiscretion' has not proved popular with the public or the press, especially when new revelations about her finances keep appearing, with the sale of her home (which the taxpayer paid toward through her expenses), at a profit of over £1 million, hitting the headlines as she switched its designation from second to main. Second homes are liable for capital gains tax at 28% whereas main homes are exempt. Now, I'm sure avoiding a tax bill of hundreds of thousands of pounds was the last thing on Mrs Miller's mind when she switched the designation of her home, and it's all a big 'coincidence'.
Let's be clear - I will not support Mrs Miller, her actions were wrong, and she was right to resign, and should perhaps face criminal charges for false claims, as you or I would do if we claimed falsely for benefits. I will, however, blame the remuneration system in Parliament as much as I blame Mrs Miller. Our MPs are not paid well enough, and although they cannot and must not turn to fraud to supplement their income, we must still recognise this fact. Italy, Japan, the US and Australia all pay their MPs over £100,000 per annum - we pay ours around £65,000.
Despite what the public think of MPs, they work do hard, the average MP working 69 hours per week, according to the Guardian. Yes, like all professions, some MPs are lazy and work a lot less, but from personal experience with MPs, some work more than that too. Yes the public were right to be angry about the expenses scandal, and yes the public are right to scrutinise their MPs more than ever before. The public are not right, however, to think their MPs are lazy, good-for-nothing criminals. Most MPs care about their constituents, work hard for their constituents and are still paid less than they're worth.
Maria Miller speaking in March 2014
Organisations such as the right-wing Tax Payers' Alliance (TPA), have attacked any suggestion of raising pay for MPs, claiming there is 'no justification' for a rise and that UK MPs are amongst the best paid in Europe, using data from a 2009 report they submitted to a select committee in 2012. Using old data is always a reliable way to look foolish, especially when recent work done by Channel 4's Fact Check put our MP's in 11th place of 17 in regard to basic salary, and 13th when comparing MP's pay to average earnings. It's not quite the life of luxury many think MPs enjoy.
Top civil servants earn over £100,000, as do GPs and judges. How do we expect to attract the best talent to the Commons with such low levels of pay, compared to other professions or to other nation's legislatures? This will not be popular with the public, but we need to raise MP's pay - significantly. IPSA (the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority), have authorised an 11% pay rise for MPs in the next parliament. It needs to be closer to 30%. Their earnings have lagged behind rises in average earnings since 1998 - why would the best and brightest enter a profession, when they can earn more in others?
To bring Britain in line with international legislatures, to ensure we have the best people in Parliament, we need to pay them properly. If we can't find £13 million a year to get the best people possible to make incredibly important decisions for the entire nation, what can we find money for?
Photo courtesy of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport under a Creative Commons License.