The public sector saved Britain. So why are MPs who broke us getting a raise?

East Devon Owl finds common ground with the Fleet Street Fox. Will we see East Devon MPs donating their increase to charity – as Ben Bradshaw does in Exeter?

This government is awe-inspiring.

Fleet Street Fox www.mirror.co.uk

Because just when you think it’s hit a peak of venal scumbaggery which cannot possibly be surpassed, Boris Johnson’s “cabinet of giants” strains its sinews to manage a further feat of breathtaking bastardy.

Just when you thought paying their mates millions was bad, they ‘lose the paperwork’ for up to £18billion of government contracts. When you think paying £50million for an absence of ferries was the worst they could manage, then find they’ve blown £12billion on barely any tests or tracing. And once you have ingested the news of a public sector pay freeze on the grounds of “fairness”, they are wheeled out to defend a pay increase for themselves.

The likes of Matt Hancock have had so much practice this year at twisting truth and language that their necks are no longer made of brass, but pure tungsten. A man who can claim he “threw a protective ring around care homes” by turning them into plague pits can have no issues with taking home 4 times the average pay of a nurse who risked their life mopping up his disasters.

Newspapers have been widely briefed that in Wednesday’s spending review, Chancellor Rishi Sunak will announce a freeze on public sector pay, with the exception of NHS doctors and nurses. The reason is because so many in the private sector have suffered in the pandemic that it would not be fair – and, in tax revenue terms, even harder to fund – pay increases for all 5.4m of the nation’s public servants.

Today it’s been revealed that MPs, on the other hand, are due a 4.1% uplift, equivalent to £3,300 on their basic £81,932 salary. The official line is that, because MPs pay is set by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, it’s nothing to do with them, guv. Unfortunately, calling something “independent” does not make it so.

IPSA’s board is appointed, funded, and set its rules by the Speaker’s Committee. It consists of Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle MP, Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, chair of the Committee of Privileges Chris Bryant MP, as well as another 5 MPs, and 3 lay members appointed by, you guessed it, MPs.

The definition of “independent” means to be free of outside authority or control. But the system MPs set up for themselves after the 2009 expenses scandal is the same as it had before, when the House of Commons voted on its own pay, except fewer of them get a vote, and there’s less to see. It’s a brilliant example of how a huge scandal led to greater official obscurity.

“Scrutiny, mutiny, it’s all the same to I” (Image: Anna Turley MP/Getty)

The police’s independent review body, on the other hand, includes ex-police, a magistrate, and an economics professor. There’s another economist on the one for school teachers, along with a retired university vice-chancellor, and an ex-headteacher. The one that covers the NHS includes several people who worked in HR, and yet another economics professor. An existing police officer, teacher, or nurse has no say on who sits on those boards, their budgets, or how they make their decisions.

In July, the government decided to honour the pay review suggestions made by these truly-independent bodies for the entire public sector. So nurses are getting 2.8%, teachers 2.75%, police 2.5%.

This was dressed up as a pay rise for their hard work. In fact, it was the pay they deserved for the work their did before the pandemic hit; not a bump, so much as their due. And it came, in many cases, along with cuts to budgets, which means those running the hospitals, schools, and police forces had to decide what to axe in order to fund the ‘pay rise’.

MPs do not have to cut a single thing to afford their own pay rise, not least because there’s fewer of them. And, what’s more, the size of their rise depends on the average weekly earnings of the rest of the public sector. Give coppers a bung they can’t afford to actually pay, then, and it still means cash drops into MPs’ pockets.

IPSA is not clear which formula it uses to calculate all this. Those who’ve analysed MP pay rises say, of the different options, not one appears to have been used consistently. And it may be that overtime payments go into the calculation, which could mean that paying nurses overtime, but no salary increase – for example during a pandemic – increases the average earnings, and MPs then get a bigger salary. and then, of course, bigger pensions too.

It’s too easy to get cross at MPs. Many of them do fine, important jobs over long hours. Most care deeply, and during the past year have had a bigger workload, and with this government more reason to check and argue with every decision.

A pay rise that’s truly in line with the rest of the public sector would be quite reasonable. And while we do not seem to be short of people who fancy being an MP, we ARE short of nurses, teachers and police officers. Ask any of them whether they’d like a pay rise or the resources to do their jobs properly, and most would ask for better budgets.

The reason this pandemic has hit Britain so badly, both in terms of deaths and economics, is because public sector budgets were pared to the bone. The UK had fewer hospital beds, had cut more of them, and had higher occupancy rates of those left, than most other countries in the EU and the OECD. We had a sicker population, with high rates of obesity, respiratory disease, and diabetes, along with cuts to public health budgets, school meals, and community programmes. And when lockdown came, we had fewer police to catch those breaking the rules, which contributed to our second wave.

Had we funded our public sector properly, we would not be so fat, as sick, or get away with being so stupid. We would not need new hospitals, doctors, or police, because we would have enough already. School children would have been armed with iPads, broadband would have been laid on by the state, and all the many harms of this crisis would have been less.

“Seriously, any old fool could do this job. Which job is it, again?” (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

To do that, we would need to pay more tax. And the wonderful thing, for governments, is that if you award a pay rise to the public sector you get tax revenue in return – not only from staff, but from their increased spending, their house sales, their new car. It’s why sane governments make sure they pay public servants properly, and it’s because ours is so damagingly stupid that we’re not doing the same.

At one point during the first lockdown, the London Tube was seeing just 7% of its usual journeys, and the rail network about 5%. Those were the people who kept the lights on – the NHS cleaners, the police support staff, council workers, engineers. It was indicative of how useful they are, and how the remaining 90% of us can do nothing without them. There’d be no newspapers without lorry drivers, no food in the shops without road repairs, no medicines without dockers, no public safety without prison officers.

We have all suffered, this year. And we’ll be even poorer still if we don’t reward those – public or private sector – who have done the most to ensure we made it to Christmas. That means money for the NHS, not for private healthcare to overcharge for clearing the waiting lists; funding for school meals, not Boris’ school mates; and the same rules for all, whether it’s millions of of public sector staff or 650 MPs.

As it is, what we’ve got is a ruling class that is “independent” only of us, and that’s not the deal we agreed.

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