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MPs’ pay and a race to the bottom

The pay rise is a step too far, and MPs would be advised to legislate briefly and quickly to stop it

MPs want to feed, clothe and house their children. At the taxpayer’s expense. How dare they?

Have they no shame? Reports that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has accepted not only claims for larger accommodation from MPs with children, but also claims for MPs’ children’s travel, has prompted another spasm of condemnation. But such breathless outrage is as unfair as it is unhealthy.

The Independent accepts that MPs handled their expenses badly until they were dragged into the daylight by a combination of Freedom of Information law and a whistleblower in 2009. The justified outrage at those revelations resulted in a tightening of the rules, and in the handing over of responsibility for those rules and for MPs’ pay to a new body. It was Ipsa, not MPs themselves, which proposed that MPs should have a pay rise of £10,000 a year. And it was Ipsa that agreed the reimbursement of some additional expenses incurred by MPs with children.

The pay rise is a step too far, and MPs would be advised to legislate briefly and quickly to stop it. But the additional payments for children are justified. We ask a great deal of the families of MPs, most of whom represent constituencies outside London and must live in two places. And we should want people with families to be MPs.

MPs are well paid in relation to average incomes. Their £66,000 salary is two-and-a-half times the median for full-time workers. That is a generous level. But the hostility towards MPs’ pay and to their legitimate expenses, which are now paid for receipted payments only, is often unreasonable.

In our view, the present salary is about right, and makes it harder for MPs to argue that they need to take on second jobs. But much of public opinion seems to take the more extreme position that a single pound given to any politician would be too much. Such a stance is foolish, destructive and also wrong.

Despite the frailties of the previous expenses system, politicians are not a morally deficient class of person. Most are motivated, in large part, by the ideal of public service. If we want democracy, then we have to pay for it – and that includes taking account of the children.