Do MPs think they are poor? Some who have stuck up for them in the expenses saga say they are underpaid. In his weekly column, Michael Blastland looks at how their income compares with that of Mr and Mrs Typical.
What's a typical person's weekly income in the UK? About £390 after tax and benefits, adjusted for household income*. That's for a two-adult household without children. How did I get the figure - it's the median average, which is a technical way of saying it's roughly the figure in the middle of all incomes.
Have a look at the graph below:
It shows roughly how we stack up. The vertical scale shows how many people are at each £10 interval - so for example about 1.3 million have between £270 - £280 a week. About 4% are off the graph, which stops at £1,100 to keep the scale practical.
Now, where do MPs fit in to this picture? The figures take account of household composition. So let's take an MP living with a non-working partner, the kids grown up and gone, and no other income.
Look at the graph below. If we treat MPs' expenses as income then the average expenses alone would place the MP household above about 30% of the population or 17 million individuals.
On salary alone, the MP's household is above about 91% of the population - 55 million individuals. About 9% have household incomes higher than this.
And lump them both together (salary and expenses) - our honourable member sits above about 96% of the population - 58 million individuals. A working partner would push them higher still.
Have MPs, of all people, lacked a sense of how most voters live, of what these amounts would mean to the majority? And does this help explain public anger?
I wonder if they found themselves in the expenses mess because, bluntly, they think they are poor.
Perhaps they do feel poor compared with many of those they meet. MPs work hard and could probably earn more doing something else. So could many people.
The poorest we can make the MP appear in the population at large is to remove the expenses, continue to assume one income only for a two-adult household and give them three teenage children. That puts them roughly in the middle of the distribution, after adjusting for family circumstances.
So are MPs badly paid? We have to ask on whose scale. Not by the standards of half the population or more, for whom they are rich. The top 5% might think otherwise, and perhaps it's those people we want in the job.
Where should they be in the distribution? You tell us.
* The figures here are based on the Institute for Fiscal Studies' online calculator
Where Do You Fit In?
It uses - in our case - an approximate measure of income after direct taxes (income tax, national insurance and council tax) and benefits. This is thought to give the best measure of how much people have left to spend. It is based on household income rather than individual income to allow for the fact that someone in the same family might have no income of their own but share their partners'.
This income is also then adjusted to take account of household composition.
So it is assumed, for example, that a couple living together needs 50 per cent more than a single person to achieve the same standard of living. A family with children needs more money again to reach the same standard of living. This is known as equivalisation. The IFS site offers more details.
The charts in our example of an MP with a partner but no dependent children have adjusted all other households by equivalisation, so that they are comparable.
Below is a selection of your comments.
It would be interesting to see how this compares to London incomes and/or jobs where significant managerial impact or strategic understanding is required. It would also be interesting to look at how well educated MP's are in comparison to the population and how their income compares to their peers in this respect.
Andrew Wallin, London
In my eyes, what the MPs have been doing is basically fraud. Why should they be allowed to go unpunished!?
Al, Leeds, UK
Perfect demonstration of how out of touch MPs are from the people they represent. It would be interesting to see whether the day to day decisions they take on behalf of millions of ordinary people would be different if they themselves had to deal with job insecurity, rising cost of living and a general feeling of being continually squeezed for more and more money. Out of touch and out-dated - hopefully things will change to align them with us ordinary folk who pay for their comfortable lifestyles. The government needs to be run more like the thousands of companies in the UK and not the secretive club it appears to have been.
More pertinent here is the mode, which is the peak of the curve. this represents the income which comes to the largest fraction of people and so is more representative of a "typical" person.
£60K for one of the most important jobs in the country? An absolute pittance. The average company director makes far more than that, and there are tens of thousands of them. How many doctors over the age of 35 make less than that - lawyers, bankers - any senior professional outside the underpaid caring professions. Pay them all £100K/year, let them expense office costs like any business would, and that will work. If they want a second home, the House of Commons rents one for them.
James , Cambridge
If MPs are that far removed from the average in the population, how are they meant to represent us?
I don't think that it's unreasonable to expect them to be in a higher bracket of earnings when you line them up next to the Great British Public. I do however find it particularly distasteful that they do earn more and yet all those people in the £200/week bracket who struggle to pay their bills and feed their family are apparently also responsible for paying for MP home upkeep. If the MPs who over claimed can afford to pay it back then surely that means they didn't really need the money in the first place? But good job, there is a single mother somewhere who couldn't eat because she had to feed her kids and fix your toilet seat.
James Reynolds, Hatfield, England
For all their faults, MPs are not typical people, are they? You don't get selected as an MP unless you are pretty exceptional in the first place. A more relevant point is what they could earn in the private sector. This doesn't excuse the whole expenses furore, but is a more relevant comparison.
This looks about right. They are paid in the top end, which will hopefully will attract the best people to their job. And their expenses, once tidied up and locked down a bit, will pay for their secretaries and office staff to communicate with their constituents and follow the sheer volume of legislation that is done.
Ed C, Reading, UK
If an MP has a working partner that will push their income higher, true, but that applies to everyone else in the population too!! An the whole point of their expenses is to compensate for the extra cost of running two homes and two offices so shouldn't be taken into account when comparing income, unless maybe one can find an interesting way to compare it with divorced families. How much would one person have to earn if they were divorced, their ex-husband or wife doesn't work, and they need to support two homes at the sort of level someone doing public service as an elected representative probably deserves?
Rolf Howarth, Stratford-upon-Avon
You would expect someone to be at the top of their game in order to become an MP. Successfull shop stewards, doctors, lawyers, businessmen etc. These sort of people are already on high salaries, so if you want to entice them in to politics you have to give them high salaries. Otherwise you end up with a lot of dross. But hold on - we pay politicians loads and most of them are dross anyway! Bang goes my theory.
So where do they fall when compared to people required (by their job) to maintain two houses? Lets compare apples with apples here. The expenses are (supposed to be) for the purpose of ensuring that their (rather unique) work doesn't leave them out of pocket.
I think they are underpaid. I want the best quality individuals doing this job. I can't, however, guarantee that I'm going to get the best quality individual - because I live in a democracy, not a meritocracy.
Peter Carswell, London
It is obvious that MP's have lost sense of reality. As rightly said they feel poor in comparison of the people they deal on a day to day basis, but to have a £77K basic salary is not given to everybody. The fact is that rules allowed them to do so but morality defy the rules so, in my opinion, MP's knew it was wrong but they truly believe that they are a class above the normal class. The work they are doing is not of great difficulty and if you were to put in relation to any other work, they would be paid around £35-40k a year and might be able to claim expenses if they are lucky. I think someone should stand up and tell MP's to come back to reality and stop being patronising and arrogant.
"MPs work hard and could probably earn more doing something else?" A few maybe, but I think we have seen that a large number are absolutely "unfit for purpose"!
Admad, Crawley Down, West Sussex
The chart makes it very apparent that MPs are earning handsome salaries without their expenses. Perhaps MPs should have a look at the chart for themselves. Another interesting comparison might be MPs pay compared against other public sector workers. I would love to know how their pay has risen over the last 10 years compared to say nurses.
Mark Dooney, London
MPs should be paid the national average wage - whatever it is. It's then in their best interests too to get the wages up for the whole country and improve cost of living etc if they have to live on the same budget as everyone else.
Their salary is probably about right. They work hard at all hours in responsible jobs. What has seriously angered people is the near fraudulent playing of expenses, flipping properties etc. MPs seem to think saying sorry is enough. Its time at least 100 of them went to prison for fraud and tax evasion.
Nigel Evans, Blackpool
MPs should have been paid more than the £64K they are earn at present. They have been told to think of the expenses as part of their wage and spent it accordingly. I doubt whether they thought of it as taypayers money rather than their own earned cash. People earning big wages pay big taxes too. Some of them could no doubt earn more in other jobs. So off they go! Let's see what sort of people are elected now. BNP? Greens? Television presenters?
Julia Quinn, Durham
If their salaries were lower, putting them in the median people would be much more understanding of expenses claims for second homes, travel and entertaining. With such vast salaries, compared with the average person, it seems reasonable they should consider these costs as already included in their pay.
I'm on about £125 a week and work in the public sector. A tighter grip on their purse strings might help me to loosen mine just a little!!
Adam Kidd, Brighton
MPs are the people running our country and holding the government to account - in order to attract the right calibre of people they should be in top 5% of your graph. They should be paid properly (say £100,000 for a backbench MP) and have a much stricter expenses regime. We do not want to go back to the times when only the independently wealthy could afford to be an MP.
Alan, Glenrothes, Fife