Politics

How much do we pay our MPs?

Britain’s MPs were first paid a salary in 1911. How has it changed since?

In the early nineteenth century revolution washed across Europe. The British political classes were terrified an insurrectionary fervour would come to the United Kingdom: the Irish, frustrated with the way they were treated by the parliament in Westminster, continued to cause problems while many in England, Scotland, and Wales were frustrated by the lack of change.

So parliament passed the Great Reform Act of 1832, doing away with the rotten boroughs and increasing the franchise. They gave the vote to the middle class.

Buoyed by this acquiescence some thought to ask for more. The Chartist movement was born, and with it six demands. A vote for every man aged 21 or older, of sound mind, and not undergoing punishment for crime. Secret ballots. No need for members of parliament to own land. Salaries for MPs. Constituencies of equal population. Annual elections.

Chartism failed spectacularly at the time, but within 80 years five of those six demands had been met — annual elections are the only outstanding issue. One of those five demands, payment of MPs, continues to be a controversial topic.

The need for payment

By the end of the nineteenth century the industrial cities did see political revolution. Far quieter but no less disruptive than those that had already taken place on the continent the revolution saw working-class people standing for parliament. This radical notion, promoted by Keir Hardie’s Independent Labour Party, saw miners and unionists elected to stand up for workers’ rights.

But these new Labour MPs had a problem: if they had to give up their jobs to become members of parliament — and who could be a Lancashire miner if you had to be in London every day of the week — how were they to earn a living? So, in 1911, after exerting much pressure on the Liberal government, and after six earlier bills had failed to pass, the Labour party got what it needed: MPs were given a salary.

Although the then chancellor of the exchequer, David Lloyd George, went to pains to point out it was an allowance, not a salary, payment started at £400 a year (about £35,000 in today’s money). Apart from one dip in 1931, to £360, the salary — sorry, allowance — increased at irregular intervals. In 1963 the government implemented the recommendations of an independent committee and increased the basic salary from £1,750 to £3,250 (£49,000 today), and since 1971 an independent review board has issued reports (and recommendations for increases) on members’ pay fairly regularly.

I was interested in seeing how salaries have changed over time, both in real terms and adjusted for inflation. I found the details of historic salaries in a PDF produced by the House of Commons Information Office, found out how to calculate historical inflation from data provided by the National Statistics Office, and came up with the chart below: MPs salaries from 1911–2008.

Payments made to MPs from 1911–2008, showing real and inflation-adjusted salaries. The light grey line is the real salary, the black line the salary adjusted for inflation at 2008 levels. The average annual salary of a Briton in 2008, £24,908, is shown as a straight horizontal line.

What does the chart tell us?

Just look at the change in from the mid-1960s onwards. Before then the allowance spent most of its time below what is an average salary today, so those frequent reviews have clearly made a difference. Some might say these independent reviews gave MPs the freedom to increase their salary without fear of recrimination; others would say MPs were finally allowed a salary worthy of their work. Either way, it’s a very pronounced change.

At the other end of the scale the decrease MPs voted for in 1931 made little difference to their already dipping salary (it had dropped to a third of its original value in real terms) but it must certainly have been very politically expedient move while the world was struggling with the Great Depression.

Notice that large jump in the mid-1990s? In July 1996 the Review Body on Senior Salaries (SSRB) recommended MPs should be paid £43,000 a year, a more than 26 per cent increase. The government, surely nervous of how the electorate would see such an increase, proposed instead an increase of a meagre three per cent. MPs were having none of it, rejecting the government’s proposal and accepting the SSRB’s 26 per cent. I wonder how many people considered that an issue in the election nine months later?

Of course, the elephant in the room is MPs’ expenses. While in 2008 an MP’s salary was £63,291 they could claim lots and lots in expenses. Eric Joyce, MP for Falkirk and highest claimant, requested £187,334 to cover travel, staffing costs, stationary, and the like. But there’s been enough written about that that I don’t need to.

The raw data

If you’re a nerd like me and love to play with data you’ll be interested in the the raw figures for the chart above. Here they are. Feel free to use them — although if you do a link back would be just lovely.

YearReal salaryInflation-adjusted salaryInflation multiplier
2008£63,291£63,2911
2007£61,820£61,8201
2006£60,277£66,3051.1
2005£59,095£65,0051.1
2004£57,485£68,9821.2
2003£56,358£67,6301.2
2002£55,118£66,1421.2
2001£51,822£62,1861.2
2000£48,371£62,8821.3
1999£47,008£61,1101.3
1998£45,066£58,5861.3
1997£43,860£61,4041.4
1996£43,000£60,2001.4
1995£33,189£46,4651.4
1994£31,687£47,5311.5
1993£30,854£46,2811.5
1992£30,854£49,3661.6
1991£28,970£46,3521.6
1990£26,701£45,3921.7
1989£24,107£45,8031.9
1988£22,548£45,0962
1987£18,500£38,8502.1
1986£17,702£38,9442.2
1985£16,904£38,8792.3
1984£16,106£38,6542.4
1983£15,308£38,2702.5
1982£14,910£38,7662.6
1981£13,950£40,4552.9
1980£11,750£37,6003.2
1979£9,450£35,9103.8
1978£6,897£29,6574.3
1977£6,270£29,4694.7
1976£6,062£32,7355.4
1975£5,750£36,2256.3
1974£4,500£35,1007.8
1973£4,500£40,9509.1
1972£4,500£44,5509.9
1971£3,250£35,75011
1970£3,250£39,00012
1969£3,250£39,00012
1968£3,250£42,25013
1967£3,250£45,50014
1966£3,250£45,50014
1965£3,250£48,75015
1964£3,250£48,75015
1963£1,750£28,00016
1962£1,750£28,00016
1961£1,750£29,75017
1960£1,750£29,75017
1959£1,750£29,75017
1958£1,750£31,50018
1957£1,750£31,50018
1956£1,250£23,75019
1955£1,250£25,00020
1954£1,250£26,25021
1953£1,000£21,00021
1952£1,000£22,00022
1951£1,000£24,00024
1950£1,000£26,00026
1949£1,000£26,00026
1948£1,000£27,00027
1947£1,000£29,00029
1946£1,000£31,00031
1945£600£19,20032
1944£600£19,80033
1943£600£20,40034
1942£600£21,00035
1941£600£22,80038
1940£600£25,20042
1939£600£29,40049
1938£600£30,00050
1937£600£30,60051
1936£400£21,20053
1935£400£21,20053
1934£380£20,52054
1933£360£19,44054
1932£360£19,08053
1931£360£18,36051
1930£400£19,60049
1929£400£19,20048
1928£400£18,80047
1927£400£18,80047
1926£400£18,40046
1925£400£18,40046
1924£400£18,40046
1923£400£18,00045
1922£400£17,20043
1921£400£14,80037
1920£400£13,20033
1919£400£15,60039
1918£400£17,20043
1917£400£20,80052
1916£400£30,00075
1915£400£30,80077
1914£400£34,40086
1913£400£34,40086
1912£400£34,40086
1911£400£35,20088