The country’s current longest-serving MP defended branding politicians’ £80,000 pay packets “grim” as he said higher wages would widen the field of available candidates.
Worthing West Tory MP Sir Peter Bottomley has been criticised for comments made in an interview with the New Statesman, where he claimed it was “desperately difficult” for newer parliamentarians to survive on the amount they are paid.
MPs are paid £81,932 a year, which is set by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa).
They can also claim expenses to cover the costs of running an office, employing staff, having somewhere to live in London or their constituency, and travelling between Parliament and their constituency.
The average UK salary is £31,461 a year.
Father of the House Sir Peter, who has the current longest continuous service in the Commons, told the New Statesman: “I take the view that being an MP is the greatest honour you could have, but a general practitioner in politics ought to be paid roughly the same as a general practitioner in medicine.
“Doctors are paid far too little nowadays. But if they would get roughly £100,000 a year, the equivalent for an MP to get the same standard of living would be £110,000-£115,000 a year – it’s never the right time, but if your MP isn’t worth the money, it’s better to change the MP than to change the money.”
And he said the situation is “desperately difficult” for his newer MPs, adding: “I don’t know how they manage. It’s really grim.”
The remarks sparked outrage as the interview was published on the same day the £20 Universal Credit uplift was scrapped.
And shadow child poverty secretary Wes Streeting told the BBC’s Radio 5 Live on Thursday that he is “genuinely infuriated” by the comments.
The Ilford North Labour MP said: “Yesterday the Government implemented its £20-a-week cut to Universal Credit, which is going to clobber five million people, millions of whom are in work, on low pay, really struggling to get by.
“The charities are warning that 200,000 children are going to be plunged into poverty so excuse me for not asking your listeners to kind of get the world’s smallest violin out for MPs.
“We are perfectly well paid, and unfortunately too many MPs on the Conservative side, at the same time as whingeing about very high – relatively high – levels of pay that MPs get in this country, at the same time they are clobbering people who are losing over £1,000 a year, which is 10% of their income in some cases.”
He added: “This is my problem with the Tories – it’s not that they’re evil, bad people who go into work every day thinking ‘How can we plunge more kids into poverty?’ but, as Peter Bottomley’s comments show, they just don’t know what life is like for a hell of a lot of people in this country and they make policies that are actively hurting people who are going out, working hard, trying to make the best for their family and are really struggling.”
Sir Peter said he had not known when the interview would be published but told radio station LBC that he stood by his remarks.
“In a debate in the House of Commons in 1977 Enoch Powell interrupted me, but I was making the point that you could have a Parliament full of church mice and you could have a Parliament full of independently wealthy, but what about the people in the middle?
“What about the person who’s deputy head of a large, comprehensive school? What about the person who has been a Royal Naval captain? What about the person who may be your solicitor, your accountant?”
He added: “The real point is, do you want to say that the deputy general secretary of the College of Nursing should be able to come to Parliament without a major sacrifice? Should your GP be switched to Parliament for a Parliament or two, without a major sacrifice?
“The answer, in my view, clearly is yes.
“Should there be a pay increase now? The answer is no, and I’m on the record repeatedly saying never change the pay of MPs in between elections. Set the pay at a general election, and stick to that until you have another general election.”
Sir Peter told the radio station that the number of MPs could be cut by 10% in order to cover any increase in pay.
He added that those who make money as “a good teacher, a good social worker or a good trade union official” would be “significantly worse off” if they went into politics.
He said that raising pay would therefore “attract into the field of competition good people, not just those who are prepared to do it for nothing, not just those who can afford to do it for nothing, but the people in between”.
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