Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
The issue of parliamentary pay and MPs’ expenses remains emotional and symbolic.
The Spotted in Chippenham Facebook page posted a photo of Michelle Donelan MP (Conservative, Chippenham), with the inscription:
I’m Michelle Donelan, Conservative M.P. for Chippenham.
Recently I voted to cut disabled people’s income by £30 per week.
But claimed £26k+ in expenses on top of my generous salary.
*That’s an extra £500 per week.*
The second line references the cut to Employment and Support Allowance, for claimants after April 2017 in the work-related activity group of that payment, bringing it in line with the Jobseeker’s Allowance. For this group, direct payments would be reduced, but extra assistance for seeking work would be provided. As the BBC reports :
Welfare minister Lord Freud said ESA needed reform since, at the moment, only 1% of those in the WRAG category moved off the benefit each month. While the move would save some £55m in its first year, he said £60m would be spent during the same period to help disabled people into work.
The Independent Parliamentary Standard Authority, set up following the expenses’ scandal, regulates what MPs may claim, publishing this information online .
The headline summary of Ms Donelan’s claims for 2015-16 were: accommodation for £10,830, office costs for £9,487, and starting up the constituency office costed £3,049. Also, travel — mainly relating to her staff — was expensed at £1,767, with staffing costs coming in at £1,053.
These are all related to her role as an MP, rather than from greed, as implied in the photo.
The largest item is the rental costs for a place in London. The borough median for a rented room (such as in shared accommodation) in Westminster was £204 per week, or £10,608 annually . By comparison, a one-bed flat in the same borough has a median weekly rent of £434, or £22,568 per year. Rental costs of £1,755 per month in London must be considered reasonable.
Some commenters, including the owner of the Spotted in Chippenham page, questioned the need for Ms Donelan to travel into London.
Given that an MP for the constituency must travel from Chippenham station to London Paddington, and then go onto Westminster, this is around two hours at its quickest. The latest direct train back to Chippenham departs the London Paddington station departs at 20:45 (looking at Monday 21st March 2016).
Later trains all involve changes or bus services, taking in excess of two hours just for travelling between Paddington and Chippenham.
MPs are in the House of Commons, to debate and vote on legislation and motions. If there was a late vote, then an MP who had no accommodation to return to would have either get a late-night taxi from Westminster back to the constituency, or take a last-minute booking at a hotel. Both of these options are rather expensive, and would be fairly expensed.
Furthermore, a 12 month ticket between Chippenham and London terminals is priced at £9,212 .
This may not include the London Underground, which would have to purchased separately. It would appear that asking an MP to find accommodation in London is potentially preferrable to demanding daily travel to London, as well as reducing their time to get to work.
Now, it is important to combat these memes, because MPs are often hated figures. This hate can take particularly virulent forms, when primed with misconceptions.
I sincerely apologise to Ms Donelan if she reads this, but here are a selection of very crude comments from the Spotted in Chippenham page, left intact by the page’s owner:
No-one should doubt the immense hatred facing British politicians.
 BBC, 2016. Lords defeat for ministers over disability cuts. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-35422778 [Accessed: 21st March 2016]
 Ipsa, 2016. Michelle Donelan, Conservative, Chippenham CC. Available from: http://www.parliamentary-standards.org.uk/MPAndConstituencyData.aspx?conId=3BCA2EA7-4A52-4C23-BDD8-4279D855510E [Accessed: 21st March 2016]
 LONDON.GOV.UK, 2016. London rents map. Available from: https://www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/housing-and-land/renting/london-rents-map [Accessed: 21st March 2016]
 National Rail, 2016. Season Ticket Costs. Available from: http://ojp.nationalrail.co.uk/service/seasonticket/tickets [Accessed: 21st March 2016]
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