WHEN it comes to a pay rise for MPs, perception is crucial – and perception at this time is almost universally hostile.
The proposal for an 11 per cent increase to £74,000 is being recommended by Ipsa, the independent parliamentary watchdog. That it comes with memories of the expenses scandal still fresh only adds to the sense of a fix that is disengaged both from the hardships with which millions of voters have are having to face and from the low esteem in which politicians are held.
Now there is a case for a rise in MPs pay. It is important that MPs’ pay is not allowed to fall so low as to be a deterrent to those who have no private means and who would struggle to meet all the demands placed upon them. And the pay rise proposal comes with other alterations to their pay and conditions. The watchdog is seeking an increase in the amount that MPs contribute to their pensions. It is also seeking modifications to resettlement grants given to MPs when they leave Parliament, the scrapping of dinner allowances and other perks.
These changes are overdue. But they should not require what many will regard as an over-compensatory sweetener for MPs. As for the effects of inflation on standstill incomes, this is exactly what millions of households have had to contend with over the past four years. No “independent watchdogs” have come rushing to their aid.
And while there is an argument to ensure MPs’ pay is at a level sufficient to attract talented people from different walks of life, there is surely an issue here of timing. The perception created is that the pay of politicians should be immune from the pressures that affect many of their constituents. It reduces to nought the exhortations that “we’re all in this together”. That this is clearly not the case here is the conclusion that many will feel justified in drawing.
As for “falling behind” the levels of pay that MPs might have enjoyed had they chosen to go into the City or become a director of some privatised utility, the key difference here is that MPs chose to devote themselves to public service. That should not of course mean that they should be poorly rewarded or disqualified from a level of remuneration that enables them to carry out their duties fully and effectively. But they cannot secure for themselves the moral authority and public recognition that comes with public service and a level of pay pegged to that of an investment banker or hedge fund manager.
Many MPs have been quick to agree that this is a wholly inappropriate time for a pay rise some five times the rate of inflation and have said they will forego the rise. But some will accept the increase. Better, surely, to have pegged any pay rise at this time to the general rate of increase in average earnings and to defer any additional increase to a period when it would not invoke even louder criticism of MPs than that from which they seek to escape.
Dementia research funds needed now
LONGER life expectancy is one of the greatest benefits brought about by medical science. But it brings with it a host of concerns and responsibilities. Prominent among these is the need to come to terms with the fast-rising incidence of dementia. It has been too long the poor relation of cancer research, attracting an inadequate level of research and public support.
Dementia research is decades behind cancer, with six times more UK researchers working on cancer than dementia. The calls of the Alzheimer’s Society for greater research to treat the condition will receive powerful reinforcement with the first G8 dementia summit being held this week. Dementia is an appalling condition which destroys the final few years of a sufferer’s life, stripping them of their dignity, and with profound effects on families.
But it is the growing incidence of the condition that should now compel action. Current estimates suggest 35.6 million people around the world are living with dementia, including around 800,000 in the UK. Because of an ageing population, the World Health Organisation has estimated that that number could reach 115.4 million in 2050. In the UK alone, there are likely to be nearly a million people with the condition by the end of 2020.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said that tackling the condition is a “personal priority”. He has already announced a UK plan on research, care and awareness and that funding for dementia research will increase to around £66 million by 2015. That, given the scale of the challenge, seems altogether too low. We need to recognise the enormity of the problem ahead and to pursue both research and the funding of care with the utmost vigour.