Suddenly a slew of articles have started talking about attitudes to pay inequality in the UK. I’ll write my own thoughts on this in the coming months, but for the moment I thought I’d just flag a few of the most interesting developments:
- A ‘High Pay Commission‘ has been launched by the left-wing (but not strictly party-political…) pressure group Compass. It has a year to figure out how to ‘mitigate or reduce the growing rates of high pay’ in the private sector. To get some press attention, the Commission started with some polling showing that people underestimate high pay, and we don’t think that people deserve levels of pay this high…
- There’s no need for the Commission to deal with public sector pay, because the Government is already looking into it! Will Hutton – the stockbroker turned journalist/public intellectual (and in fact, currently governor of my own university…) – is currently looking at all levels of public sector pay. Unfortunately the call for evidence is already closed, but you can get a preview of Will Hutton’s thinking here.
- The BBC have also decided this is a pressing issue, and recently did some polling on what people think different professions should be paid:
“The survey of 1,000 people found that most believed the prime minister, secondary school head teachers and train drivers should be paid less. On the other hand, they believed care assistants and call centre workers should get more.”
This is the kind of result we should be coming to expect. If we look at John Hills’ Inequality and the State, ch4 – still my bible for anything inequality-related in the UK – then we find the same thing from 1999, this time drawn from the more robust ‘British Social Attitudes’ series (click on the table to expand it):
(Brendan also shows that US citizens similarly would prefer a more equal society).
- Finally, I loved a recent article in the Guardian simply because it featured people talking about what they earn (scroll down below the main article for these features and photos). As Oliver Burkeman pithily says, “Sex and death haven’t really been taboo for decades – there are people who won’t stop talking about either – but I’ve never been at a party or at drinks in a pub where salaries were openly compared.” Which is why this article was very refreshing.
If you’re feeling particularly committed to transparency about earnings, then try talking to your friends and colleagues about your pay (or indeed posting it below!). John Hills is brave enough to do this – he announced in a public seminar a few years ago that he earned just under £80,000 (if I remember correctly), which was noteworthy because I’ve never seen anyone say this publicly before. I’d love to do the same, but I do so many small odds-and-ends on top of my £14,000 student bursary that I can honestly say I have no idea what I earn annually… Or maybe this is just my excuse for my typical (and unwelcome) British reticence.