The Maria Miller controversy has rightly caused public indignation at what is seen as corruption and arrogance by the ruling classes. However although she and her party have behaved badly, we should not lose sight of the fact that this is just the tip of a very nasty iceberg. In many ways MP’s pay and expenses are the lightning rod of a fundamentally unjust system, which gives many people fabulous wealth, while leaving many more people struggling in poverty.
What the MP’s pay issue highlights is the vast disconnect between what most people perceive to be ‘fair-pay’, and what those in the upper echelons of society actually earn. People look at Parliamentary pay (currently £66,000 for an MP, rising to £134,000 for cabinet ministers and £142,000 for the Prime Minister), and consider it’s more than enough for anyone, and therefore get rightly aggrieved when MP’s try and leech yet more money through the expenses system. MP’s on the other hand look at what top businessmen generally earn (chief exec’s of FTSE-100 companies currently average £5.1m/year) and conclude – correctly – that they’re underpaid compared to what they could get in the private sector. So the public think they’re overpaid, while they think they’re underpaid. This huge disconnect is a result of the philosophy that the best way to run a society is to let ‘the market’ decide everything, including everyone’s salary. Inevitably what this actually means is that those at the top, who effectively control ‘the market’, reward themselves handsomely, while everyone else is forced to accept just the bare minimum.
Also in these circumstances it’s no wonder those who work in public services adore the concept of privatisation. The top 5 earners at British Gas took home average pay of more than £3m each last year.* If British Gas was still publicly owned such outrageous salaries would come under intense public scrutiny and criticism, but as a private company they dismiss such criticism claiming they get the ‘market rate’, justify British Gas’s vast profit on the basis that a 5% margin is ‘reasonable’, and basically tell the struggling populace to just shut up and stop complaining.
Until we can get away from this belief in ‘the market’, those in positions of power will continue to run rings round the rest of us, and we will continue to live in a very unfair and unjust world.
For more on the huge issues of pay inequality click here.