The beefed-up expenses budget can be used to buy equipment “such as laptops and printers” for MPs and their staff and to help cover “additional electricity, heating and phone bills,” the Times reported on Thursday. Rules around providing timely evidence for expenses claims were also temporarily relaxed.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) told MPs that the new measures will provide them “the resources and flexibility to concentrate on your parliamentary duties and support your staff” during the Covid-19 crisis.
Yet, members of the public weren’t exactly enthused by the generous increase, with many taking to Twitter to note that it comes on top of MPs’ £81,932 ($102,000) salary (recently already raised by 3.1 percent) and their existing office budget which is £26,000 per year.
Some wanted to know if it was reasonable to assume that the generously remunerated public servants needed an extra £10,000 for “laptops and printers” while front-line workers and NHS staff are struggling on far smaller salaries and benefit payments.
“This seems like a very wasteful, indulgent splash at the taxpayers’ expense when they can least afford it,” one person wrote.
Many recalled how just days ago UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said this was “not the time” to discuss a pay rise for nurses and saw the expenses increase as more evidence of the fact that there is one rule for regular people and another rule entirely for the elite.
There was also anger over the fact that just days ago, statutory sick pay in the UK was increased by only £1.60 to £95.85 per week.
Another person noted that MPs’ expenses are supposed to help them with travel costs and the costs of running a second home near parliament or in their constituency and that the Covid-19 crisis should surely result in lower than usual expenses for MPs, not higher.
Yet, not everyone shared the outrage. Some suggested the anger about the expenses increase was overblown because the money would be used to help lower-paid parliamentary staffers (who are on far smaller salaries than MPs themselves) deal with an increased workload due to the coronavirus crisis.
Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, told the Times however, that the automatic £10,000 increase was a “crude” approach and the public would be puzzled over why such a generous figure was picked “without first doing a bit more research into what the actual costs are.”
Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.