In yesterday’s New York Times, Robert Pear reports on a little known fact about Obamacare: the insurance packages available on the federal exchange have very high deductibles. Enticed by the low premiums, people find out that they’re screwed on the deductibles, and the co-pays, the out-of-network charges, and all the different words and ways the insurance companies have come up with to hide the fact that you’re paying through the nose.
For policies offered in the federal exchange, as in many states, the annual deductible often tops $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a couple.
Insurers devised the new policies on the assumption that consumers would pick a plan based mainly on price, as reflected in the premium. But insurance plans with lower premiums generally have higher deductibles.
In El Paso, Tex., for example, for a husband and wife both age 35, one of the cheapest plans on the federal exchange, offered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield, has a premium less than $300 a month, but the annual deductible is more than $12,000. For a 45-year-old couple seeking insurance on the federal exchange in Saginaw, Mich., a policy with a premium of $515 a month has a deductible of $10,000.
In Santa Cruz, Calif., where the exchange is run by the state, Robert Aaron, a self-employed 56-year-old engineer, said he was looking for a low-cost plan. The best one he could find had a premium of $488 a month. But the annual deductible was $5,000, and that, he said, “sounds really high.”
By contrast, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average deductible in employer-sponsored health plans is $1,135.
It’s true that if you’re a family of three, making up to $48,825 (or, if you’re an individual, making up to $28,725), you’ll be eligible for the subsidies. Those can be quite substantive at the lower ends of the income ladder. But as you start nearing those upper limits (which really aren’t that high; below the median family income, in fact), the subsidies start dwindling. Leaving individuals and families with quite a bill, as even this post, which is generally bullish on Obamacare, acknowledges.
Aside from the numbers, what I’m always struck by in these discussions is just how complicated Obamacare is. Even if we accept all the premises of its defenders, the number of steps, details, caveats, and qualifications that are required to defend it, is in itself a massive political problem. As we’re now seeing.
More important than the politics, that byzantine complexity is a symptom of what the ordinary citizen has to confront when she tries to get health insurance for herself or her family. As anyone who has even good insurance knows, navigating that world of numbers and forms and phone calls can be a daunting proposition. It requires inordinate time, doggedness, savvy, intelligence, and manipulative charm (lest you find yourself on the wrong end of a disgruntled telephone operator). Obamacare fits right in with that world and multiplies it.
I’m not interested in arguing here over what was possible with health care reform and what wasn’t; we’ve had that debate a thousand times. But I thought it might be useful to re-up part of this post I did, when I first started blogging, on how much time and energy our capitalist world requires us to waste, and what a left approach to the economy might have to say about all that. It is this world of everyday experience — what it’s like to try and get basic goods for yourself and/or your family — that I wish both liberals and leftists were more in touch with.
The post is in keeping with an idea I’ve had about socialism and the welfare state for several years now. Cribbing from Freud, and drawing from my own anti-utopian utopianism, I think the point of socialism is to convert hysterical misery into ordinary unhappiness. God, that would be so great.
There is a deeper, more substantive, case to be made for a left approach to the economy. In the neoliberal utopia, all of us are forced to spend an inordinate amount of time keeping track of each and every facet of our economic lives. That, in fact, is the openly declared goal: once we are made more cognizant of our money, where it comes from and where it goes, neoliberals believe we’ll be more responsible in spending and investing it. Of course, rich people have accountants, lawyers, personal assistants, and others to do this for them, so the argument doesn’t apply to them, but that’s another story for another day.
The dream is that we’d all have our gazillion individual accounts — one for retirement, one for sickness, one for unemployment, one for the kids, and so on, each connected to our employment, so that we understand that everything good in life depends upon our boss (and not the government) — and every day we’d check in to see how they’re doing, what needs attending to, what can be better invested elsewhere. It’s as if, in the neoliberal dream, we’re all retirees in Boca, with nothing better to do than to check in with our broker, except of course that we’re not. Indeed, if Republicans (and some Democrats) had their way, we’d never retire at all.
In real (or at least our preferred) life, we do have other, better things to do. We have books to read, children to raise, friends to meet, loved ones to care for, amusements to enjoy, drinks to drink, walks to take, webs to surf, couches to lie on, games to play, movies to see, protests to make, movements to build, marches to march, and more. Most days, we don’t have time to do any of that. We’re working way too many hours for too little pay, and in the remaining few hours (minutes) we have, after the kids are asleep, the dishes are washed, and the laundry is done, we have to haggle with insurance companies about doctor’s bills, deal with school officials needing forms signed, and more.
What’s so astounding about Romney’s proposal — and the neoliberal worldview more generally — is that it would just add to this immense, and incredibly shitty, hassle of everyday life. One more account to keep track of, one more bell to answer. Why would anyone want to live like that? I sure as hell don’t know, but I think that’s the goal of the neoliberals: not just so that we’re more responsible with our money, but also so that we’re more consumed by it: so that we don’t have time for anything else. Especially anything, like politics, that would upset the social order as it is.
…We saw a version of it during the debate on Obama’s healthcare plan. I distinctly remember, though now I can’t find it, one of those healthcare whiz kids—maybe it was Ezra Klein—tittering on about the nifty economics and cool visuals of Obama’s plan: how you could go to the web, check out the exchange, compare this little interstice of one plan with that little interstice of another, and how great it all was because it was just so fucking complicated.
I thought to myself: you’re either very young or an academic. And since I’m an academic, and could only experience vertigo upon looking at all those blasted graphs and charts, I decided whoever it was, was very young. Only someone in their 20s—whipsmart enough to master an inordinately complicated law without having to make real use of it—could look up at that Everest of words and numbers and say: Yes! There’s freedom!
That’s what the neoliberal view reduces us to: men and women so confronted by the hassle of everyday life that we’re either forced to master it, like the wunderkinder of the blogosphere, or become its slaves. We’re either athletes of the market or the support staff who tend to the race.
That’s not what the Left wants. We want to give people the chance to do something else with their lives, something besides merely tending to it, without having to take a 30-year detour on Wall Street to get there. The way to do that is not to immerse people even more in the ways and means of the market, but to give them time and space to get out of it. That’s what a good welfare state, real social democracy, does: rather than being consumed by life, it allows you to make your life. Freely. One less bell to answer, not one more.
Infopolicy: There is a number of industries today that are already obsolete, kept alive by sheer inertia or by political subsidies. Many politicians, in an attempt to “save jobs”, are foolishly taking resources from new, viable industries and giving to these obsolete ones. “Saving jobs” in this context means that politicians are rejecting ways of producing the same level of output with a much more competitive and cost-efficient method, and is not to be applauded at all.
The first and most obvious victim industry of the internet was the postal industry, the kind that delivered physical letters. When people want to communicate today, they don’t put ink to paper. Out of sheer inertia, bills and governmental correspondence is still being delivered using this method, but everybody else has moved on. Parcel couriers that ship physical objects live on for the time being, but are threatened by 3D printing.
A stone dead industry is the telecom industry, specifically including cellphone subscriptions, despite still employing hundreds of thousands of people. I don’t think I have to motivate why landline phones are dead, dead, dead as a doornail, but cellphones that operate on telecom industry standards are equally on the fast track to extinction. How can we know this? It’s trivial to observe: in Africa, cities are being blanketed with wi-fi (only wi-fi, not mobile cellphone coverage) today at the approximate cost of a bag of candy and two shoestrings, whereas rolling out 3G or 4G would cost an arm and a leg. New phones in that area of the planet don’t need the telecom industry chips any longer – they use wi-fi and Viber, Skype, WhatsApp, and similar free communications. The entire telecom industry has been sidelined and obsoleted as soon as there wasn’t legacy to consider. (This is not to say that residential broadband is dead – but the national telecom near-monopolies bought the early ISPs basically to prevent residential broadband from reaching its potential, seeing how it is this described threat to the legacy telecom industry; do not conflate residential broadband, which is the Internet, with the telecom industry technology, which is something different and obsolete.)
Another stone dead industry is cable and broadcast television. When my parents tell me they are going to watch the “nine o’clock news”, because they “want to know what happened today”, I am just dumbstruck. The entire idea of adapting to somebody else’s schedule to be force-fed passive entertainment is gone, gone, gone.
On a similar note, the entire copyright industry is not going to exist in a few decades. This industry has significant inertia and lobbying power, and have managed to essentially legislate their place in the market, but the idea that a distribution monopoly is required to get any culture and knowledge produced has been proven laughably incorrect with the advent of the Internet. The entire industry is ridiculously obsolete.
A different tune is the credit card industry, killed in one swoop by bitcoin. Ask a merchant, any merchant, if they’d like to get their money right the second of the transaction instead of having to wait for 30-90 days, and not pay any 3-5% in credit card fees, and they’ll respond with a “where the f*ck do I sign up!?”. These savings will initially be a competitive advantage for merchants who use bitcoin, able to pass some of the savings on to lower prices, and this will soon outcompete merchants who accept credit cards. The entire credit card concept is dead, dead, dead. It won’t exist in ten years – credit cards will be just as obsolete as landline phones.
Same thing with the banking industry, which has miraculously been able to charge us $50-$100 for the mere service of keeping an account balance in a database for us and managing a few transactions a day at most. Thanks, but we can do that ourselves now. Banks are obsolete. (Compare the complexity of this service with, say, Google: searching through all documents published anywhere in the world by all of humanity, in an instant, for free. That puts things in perspective.)
Last but not least, the newspaper industry is ridiculously obsolete. Authentic conversation a few years ago: “What is this?” – “It’s a printout of a news site. Apparently, they print the entire site once a day in several thousand copies.” – “Oh. Why do they do that?” – “I have no idea, really.”
"Last year, UK take-home pay was the highest in the G7 and the third highest in the OECD."
With the economy growing at the national level, the Opposition has turned its fire to what the recovery feels like in practice.
Today in the House of Commons a Minister offered the cheering news that Britons are apparently the Mo Farahs of the ‘global race’, taking home more pay than the Americans, Canadians, French, Germans, Italians or Japanese.
When it comes to looking for signs of perceptible improvements in the economy it’s easy to see why the Minister would focus on take home pay, or how much we have to spend for ourselves when the taxman and other obligations are dealt with.
The latest data from the OECD — choose ‘Net income after taxes’ — shows that a single person with no child on average pay would have a higher income than his or her peers in all but two other countries, Korea and Switzerland.
But it’s a hop, skip and jump from that to ‘the UK’: most people aren’t single and most have children.
For example, the UK comes eighth when you make the same comparison between married couples with a single earner earning the average income.
The OECD also publishes statistics on household disposable income and prefers to use them for international comparisons.
Comparing take home pay between countries isn’t easy. It’s complicated particularly by the fact that different countries provide differently for necessities such as healthcare and education out of tax.
Partly for that reason, the OECD makes clear that the figures the Minister used in Parliament today are limited, saying: “The income left at the disposal of a taxpayer may represent different standards of living in various countries.”
Earlier this year, the independent Office for National Statistics calculated its international comparisons of household income per head, and found that far from being top, the UK is a middling performer, 12th in the rankings, with disposable income in the United States 40% higher than here.
Household Actual Disposable Income Per Head in 2011
OECD Countries, UK=100
The Minister’s claim is an over-simplified summary of the OECD statistics.
The independent and more complete analysis from the Office for National Statistics shows that there’s a wider and gloomier picture not captured by what the Minister says. Although a small change in take home pay could move our rankings quite far, it’s still the case that other G7 and OECD countries are well ahead of the UK.
Universal Automation, which was recently released as a trial version, has now been launched in google’s Chrome store and is free to download. The app automatically applies for jobs on Universal Jobmatch, the Jobcentre website that claimants are often forced to use as a condition of claiming benefits*.
According to the developers the latest version has several new features:
Universal Automation was recently featured on The Guardian website, where those behind the app explained that the project was about more than just making life easier for unemployed people and winding up Iain Duncan Smith, but also aimed to highlight the drudgery of much of the work we do:
“We need to look at structural issues, such as role of unemployment in capitalist economy in general and also the particular condition of British economy at the moment. Basically most of work we do is at best socially useless and at worst actively harmful. Constant banging on about strivers, hard-working families, the squeezed middle and so on is only meant to obscure that,”
Whilst the app has designed to appear as ‘human’ as possible, obviously claimants should us this at their own risk. As ever @refuted has good advice on twitter: “Would suggest anyone mandated to use
#Jobmatch should create alternative account for experimenting with”.
To report any bugs or suggest improvements Universal Automation can be contacted via their website or @UniversalAutoma. You can download the app at the link below in the time it takes to put the kettle on. As the collective behind the app say themselves ‘Workers of the world … relax’.
The collective are blogging on tumblr at: http://universalautomation.tumblr.com/
* Whilst registration on the Unversal Jobmatch website can be compelled, there is currently no requirement to tick the box allowing the DWP to snoop on your jobsearch (you can also untick the box which asks if they can send you emails). You should be under no obligation to use the website anywhere but Jobcentres and there is really no need to tell the DWP if you have a home computer.
Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid
Yesterday we heard the good news that Trenton Oldfield and his family have survived their ordeal at the hands of Theresa May (#DeportTheresaMay) and won their appeal against his deportation.
So today we bring you his autumn issue article on another pointless aspect of our criminal justice system: prison.
The Laziness of Prison by Trenton Oldfield
Being locked in a cell for 23 hours a day doesn’t give you much of a chance to run in to people, let alone start up many conversations, but whenever there was the opportunity I would ask screws, in-house ‘charity’ workers, the Serco van drivers – whoever was around – what is the point of prison? What is it for? I asked everyone I could; what is meant to happen to me or any one of us in here as a result of spending 6 months, 6 years or even 16 years in prison?
This question became quite pressing about one week into my prison sentence when it started to become evident that somehow all of us behind those walls had travelled back in time. Somehow we were now part of an institution, a set of buildings and a way of thinking that hasn’t changed for many hundreds of years and was probably redundant, and certainly intellectually corrupt, when first conceived, in any case.
Whenever we had ‘association’ time (free time out of the cell that would last for 30-60 minutes), I would also try to read the information pinned on the noticeboards, thinking perhaps I would find a statement about what prison was for, what would happen to me in the 2-6 months I would spend there. In three different prison wings I didn’t come across anything of the sort. It was a pretty strange feeling being locked in a cell 6 x 8 feet for 23 hours a day and really having no idea why or what should happen as a result of such an endeavour.
Since leaving prison I have only been able to find statements explaining what the prison service does, such as ‘holding prisoners securely’ and ‘providing a safe and well-ordered establishment in which we treat prisoners humanely, decently and lawfully.’ What is meant to happen in, and as a result, of the secure and well-ordered establishment seems less important, or not important at all. It is this gap between machine, admin and humanity that makes spending time locked up behind a steel door, far away from loved ones, so difficult.
There are many institutions, and particularly so in Britain, that seem to exist purely as a result of historic momentum, ‘tradition’ and a lack of imagination. Prisons, which should have been abolished generations ago, are ballooning. The prison population has increased by 30% in the last decade and doubled in the last 20 years. In the last decade, prison sentences have increased on average by 20%. The UK is on something of a prison building spree, and has the highest number of private prisons anywhere in Europe. Britain, Romania and Bulgaria are the only European nations to withdraw the right to vote for prisoners.
Despite not knowing what prisons are for, the corporate-state continues their mushrooming growth right across these islands. At the same time, funding is being dramatically cut to education and health services for prisoners. If you end up in prison the chances are you will be spending your time working for little or no money in corporation work camps. And, of course, if you are black or Muslim, the likelihood of you ending up in prison increases significantly. If you are Afro-Caribbean you currently have a greater chance of being criminalised and ending up in prison than entering higher education. 25% of prisoners are from ethnic minorities, who are only 10% of the general population. Black men make up the largest percentage of this group. These men are disproportionately dying at the hands of prison screws, police and G4S and Serco – over 1000 deaths in custody in the last decade. These men are also experiencing the highest rate of the use of the mental health act to detain them.
Apart from supplying readily available and highly managed slave labour, prisons do one thing particularly well and that’s create and maintain the idea of a ‘criminal class’. Prison creates a collection of people that all of us so quickly and often without thought deride and ridicule – and, at the same time, fear. Prisoners and ex-prisoners are at the bottom of this county’s hierarchical pyramid – they’re there for everyone else to kick. How often do we call for a person we dislike to be sent to prison, to ‘rot in jail’?
Despite ‘doing our time’ prisoners come out with a criminal record, which only serves to further stigmatize, undermine and criminalise. This is particularly problematic when there is clearly institutional class and race bias in sentencing decisions. With just a little imagination and just a little bit of work, there’s every possibility of criminal records and prisons being abolished. It’s lazy to have prisons. They are a vestige of another time and don’t have a place in any modern, progressive society.
Trenton Oldfield is one half of Myrdle Court Press, the publishing arm of This Is Not A Gateway. His hobbies include open-air swimming and protest; he dislikes elitism, prison and Theresa May.
Pick up your copy of STRIKE! here
There are some Boris Johnson news stories we can all enjoy. Like that time he fell in a river. Or when he got stuck up on a zip-wire. Or even when he rescued that woman being menaced by youths – astride his trusty bicycle, the world’s most unlikely knight errant. Then there are the less fun stories, where he expresses an opinion about something and we have to take him seriously because he’s a senior politician and might actually be Prime Minister one day.
As such, I feel it is my sad duty to dig into his comments about IQ and social mobility, to see whether he is being “carelessly elitist”, or whether he might actually have a point. In the Boris Johnson style, the speech ranges a little too exuberantly over the material to allow for lengthy quotation, so I’ll summarise the relevant points (the full speech is here so people can check I’m being fair):
As a manifesto, this is terribly slapdash and vague…and is also just basically terrible. I say this because it rests on a worryingly widespread idea of what social mobility is about. This idea basically sees careers and children as belonging to two distinct camps. Children are born with an inherent level of ability – they are either “bright (or “gifted” or “talented”), or they are not. Sometimes, ‘bright’ children are born into poor families (though not as often as they are born into rich families, for reasons about which this model is silent). ‘Social mobility’ means making sure these children are able to make it into the best schools and universities, and eventually into the top professions (i.e. anything that makes a lot of money and/or is very prestigious).
The first problem with this is that ‘ability’ isn’t innate. There are of course some differences between children in their genetic (or epigenetic) endowment that might be relevant for ability, but the rest (and it’s a big ‘rest’) is environment. Children from richer families are more likely to grow up in better environments for cognitive development; less stress and instability, more ‘enrichment activities’, more books and so on. By the time children reach the gladiatorial academic competition Johnson envisions, more privileged children have already accumulated a substantial advantage. The idea that children have a ‘natural’ intelligence that just will shine through regardless of their circumstances is romantic nonsense.
But even if it weren’t nonsense, Boris still presents an incredibly narrow (but again, common) vision of social mobility. It’s what I’ve started to call in my head the ‘lifeboat’ model of society (I may have stolen that from somewhere – I can’t remember). It’s about pulling a lucky bright few into the lifeboat of Oxbridge or the professions, while everyone else is left to sink. The way Boris tells it, we need to make sure we get all the people who are able into the lifeboat, and our only duty to the rest of the population (i.e. the majority) is to make sure they are “looked after”. In Johnson’s world, the only people creating real value are the people at the top. Everyone else is just a hanger-on, not equipped with the “raw ability” to succeed in the modern economy. He’s not without compassion, he doesn’t think we should abandon these people; they’re just not really part of the dynamic, thrusting future of Britain. In other words, acceleration of pay at the top, and stagnation for everyone else is OK, as long as we can get more people from poor backgrounds into the top spots.
There’s nothing wrong with helping poor kids get into private school, or Oxbridge, or banking or law. I’d go as far as to say it’s probably a Good Thing. But it’s not the be all and end all of social mobility. We need to rebalance the economy so that there are jobs for lots of different kinds of people; crucially, jobs that pay enough for people to live decently. Without that, all of Boris’ talk about supporting apprenticeships and suchlike is just hot air.
Put simply this was a ConDem budget statement for business at the expense of those who depend on public services, those who have to rely on benefits and the millions who will have to wait years longer to draw their state pension.
via A World to Win http://www.aworldtowin.net/blog/osbornes-budget-for-business-at-our.html
The BBC will broadcast a controversial Panorama programme tonight uncovering Comic Relief’s investments in arms manufacturers, alcohol companies and tobacco giants.
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) December 10, 2013
The investigation showed that in 2009 the charity had invested £630,000 in major arms manufacturer BAE Systems.
The charity had invested £3 million in tobacco companies while putting further cash into Diageo – owners of Guinness. It is understood the charity had invested £300,000 in alcohol shares.
The original broadcast date for the show had been delayed and new BBC director general Tony Hall was forced to reassure MPs in October that it would still be aired.
In the show, broadcast tonight on BBC1, the programme claims that investing in ethical portfolios could have outperformed the controversial shares.
On the subject of commissioning: Panorama’s ‘Comic Relief’ doc is going out on Tuesday, at 22.35. Script looks good. http://t.co/RDGFIxuvAm
— Jane Bradley (@jane__bradley) December 4, 2013
However, Comic Relief defended their investment policy claiming they did not have an option when it comes where they place their funds.
In a statement, it said: “To fulfil our legal obligation, Charity Commission guidelines are clear that charities are required to maximise returns on money in their care. For Comic Relief, because the range of issues we support is so broad, ethical screening would significantly limit our ability to invest as well as seriously increase financial risk.
"Therefore ethical screening would have left us unable to meet both our legal and moral obligation to maximise returns and look after the money in our care with an appropriate level of risk. Instead we put the money into large managed funds, like many other leading charities and pension funds. We do not invest directly in any individual company. We believe this approach has delivered the greatest benefits to the most vulnerable people.
"This policy has achieved strong returns over the years, which have helped Comic Relief cover its running costs, without having to use any of the money donated directly by the public. This is a complex area, with many important considerations, and we keep it under constant review."
The charity has raised more than £900 million for good causes in almost 30 years.
However, approximately £100 million of this is currently invested in the financial markets.
The charity refuses to reveal where this money has been placed and has removed details of its investment policy from its annual accounts. Earlier annual reports show the charity had invested heavily in city products known colloquially as “booze, bombs and fags” funds.
Also in the programme, Save the Children was forced to deny it refused to criticise big energy companies over the issue of fuel poverty because it was actively seeking corporate donations.
The Independent claimed that the charity allegedly spiked a press release criticising price hikes.
The newspaper quotes Dominic Nutt who headed the charity’s press team until 2009.
He said: “When British Gas put their prices up, our policy colleagues asked us to send out a press release condemning them… I wrote the release, got it approved by the policy experts and prepared to press ‘send’.
“But the release was spiked because, I was told, it would upset British Gas who were Save the Children donors. The quest for money is beginning to destroy the mission.”
The charity completely denies these allegations.
Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children, said: “It is simply wrong and misleading to suggest our silence can be bought. We will continue to campaign on all the areas we think matter most to saving children’s lives both at home and abroad.
"We are a very ambitious organisation that is working in some of the toughest places in the world to dramatically cut the number of children dying from preventable illnesses. By harnessing the power of the private sector in a revolutionary way we can have more impact than we’ve ever had before.
"At just eight per cent of our budget, working with partnerships in such an innovative way is not about the money - it’s about utilising research and development, along with ground-breaking know-how, to do good.
"Save the Children would never put in jeopardy our values and our cause by pulling our punches on a campaign for money from a corporate partnership."
|Odette Krempin’s Charity Works – Photo Courtesy: Jose_ugs|
The brouhaha over the impending proposal by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to increase MPs pay to £74,000 is understandable. It seems perverse to be considering an 11% pay rise on a £66,000 base salary at a time when most other public sector workers are in the middle of a long period of real wage stagnation.
The cross-party rush by frontbench politicians to publicly distance themselves from the IPSA’s recommendation is equally understandable, even if it is known that many MPs say something rather different in private. They can see it would be politically damaging to accept such a pay rise now. It risks further reinforcing the reputation of politicians as self-interested and out-of-touch. David Cameron stated that the total cost of politics needs to be going down not up.
Of course, some of those graciously foregoing the payrise are independently wealthy so it will hardly make much of a difference to them one way or the other.
But this whole fuss suggests that the IPSA has fundamentally failed in its primary mission of removing the issue of MPs pay from the political arena. In the wake of the snouts–in-the-trough expenses scandal, it made sense to place remuneration in the hands of an independent body. But it may be that depoliticisation was a hopeless aspiration from the start.
And the point about our system of remunerating MPs is that the politicisation of pay has led to all sorts of perversities. While for many years headline pay increases were suppressed for short-term political reasons, the system incorporated all sorts of allowances and expenses, golden parachutes, and gold-plated pensions to compensate.
You could argue that all the IPSA has tried to do is restructure the package to put it back on an even keel. Alongside the headline increase in salary is proposed a reduction in parachutes and pensions and a tightening up on expenses and allowances. The whole package may well be fiscally neutral, as Mark has suggested. Indeed, curbing pensions may well mean saves money in the long run. But the atmosphere around this issue is so toxic it seems impossible to have an objective discussion of the issue.
It may be that part of the problem is the social composition of the IPSA, as Phil at A very public sociologist pointed out today. While the membership may be politically independent, its social background is very metropolitan establishment. So discussion of increments on £66,000 may be conducted without any great appreciation that you’re starting from a salary in the top 5% of the income distribution. If the composition of the IPSA was a little more representative of the broader public then their recommendations could have looked rather different.
Phil suggests that the way to depoliticise MPs pay is to link it to the average public sector pay rise. Prescriptions of perpetual austerity may perhaps be tempered if you are required to take a dose of your own medicine.
I suppose one question at the back of all this is what skill set does a backbench MP’s role actually require? Does it, for example, require brilliant talent that needs to be tempted away from other better paying professions? Or is it a bit of a doss? What are the appropriate comparators? Our MPs are better paid than their equivalents in some countries, but less well paid than their equivalents in others. Is that an important consideration?
A useful post at Though Cowards Flinch was recirculating today on Twitter. It provided a broad role description for a backbench MP. It argued that the level of discretion, complexity and responsibility involved in the role compared rather unfavourably to that in other senior public sector roles such as being a Head Teacher. If your job largely consists of smiling for the camera, having a word with the relevant people, and doing what you’re told by party managers, then perhaps you don’t need to be remunerated all that extravagantly.
We might think that MPs should have different, more advanced skill sets. We might, for example, have watched some woeful questioning at various Select Committees and wished for some MPs with rather more forensic skills. And it might be that to attract some of the sharper knifes in the drawer into politics would require greater financial inducement. But then you’re talking about major overhaul of the whole system of candidate selection as much as about remuneration.
In one sense, if you assume that MPs are worth £66,000 plus to start with, the IPSA proposals, taken as a whole and delivering a fiscally neutral restructuring, don’t sound unreasonable. But I can see that we’ll end up with all the add-ons being rationalised while most MPs feel obliged to forego the salary increases. So MPs will effectively be quite a lot worse off. While we would like to think they’re not doing it for the money, I don’t suppose that will do much to foster a positive outlook on their vocation.
Personally, I’d be happy for MPs were paid more if it were accompanied by a commitment to treating the role as full-time. So it would have to be accompanied by a curtailment of outside employment while a member of Parliament and a more rigorous approach to attendance and participation in the business of Parliament. Politicians are very keen on prescribing ever increasing regimes of appraisal and performance management for the rest of the public sector, because the presumption is that without it everyone will slack off and quality will be poor. So it would be appropriate for any increase in MPs’ pay to be accompanied by an increase in detailed oversight of their activities.
I wouldn’t necessarily go as far as to say pay should be performance related. But parts of Government are so keen on PRP for everyone else you’d have thought they’d have voluntarily embraced it for themselves.
You can just imagine IDS eagerly looking forward to this year’s end-of-year bonus for successful delivery of Universal Credit, the Work Programme, WCA, Universal Jobmatch. Or maybe you can’t.
I think David Cameron is right that we should be looking to reduce the cost of our Parliament. But I don’t think squeezing MPs salaries is necessarily the most sensible way to do it, even if it is the most obvious and populist. It would be much better to take an axe to the upper house and dramatically reduce the numbers in the Lords. Yet, if Cameron is so concerned about the aggregate budget then his track record of creating ever increasing numbers of unnecessary peers – something Clegg and Miliband are equally guilty of – hardly bears it out.
“Politicians caught being hypocritical” shock? It seems barely credible.
Courtesy of Alex Marsh at Alex’s Archives