MLAs need better wages and pensions to avoid poverty- SDLP Leader

SDLP Leader Alasdair McDonnell would appear to believe that demanding a pay rise for politicians to help them avoid ‘poverty’ is a winner.

Having made a faltering start to his tenure as SDLP Leader, Alasdair McDonnell must have hoped that his New Year interview with the Irish News would provide him with the chance to make a fresh start as leader, announcing a number of strategic decisions including the decision to rotate the party’s sole Executive Minister over the course of the life of this Executive.

However, his decision to support a pay rise for local politicians- and better contributions for their pensions- on the basis that it could save them from “poverty” is not likely to endear him to many.

Here’s Alisdair in his own words in yesterday’s Irish News:

I do believe strongly that assembly members because of the volatile nature of the role, where they can be sacked in a month’s notice, that there is a need for generous pension provisions because you could find yourself at 57 or 58 years of age left on the street.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the system was that maybe the wages weren’t as good as they could be but at least if there was a reasonably generous sliding exit and some sort of a pension provision there that made sure they weren’t in poverty?” (my emphasis) 

In addition to the basic MLA salary of £43,101 many MLAs receive additional allowances depending on their status as Ministers, Committee Chairpersons etc.

As you will see from this page, Alasdair claimed £714 in travel expenses in the past year- by no means the largest claim made, but still a significant amount which many- if not all- of his constituents would welcome!

The Resettlement Grant paid out to politicans failing to be returned as MLAs varies according to time served, but it is still something which many actually facing real poverty would hardly scoff at. For instance, Reg Empey and Fred Cobain received £30,000 in resettlement grants, PJ Bradley over £21,000, Paul Butler and Wallace Browne over £14,000 and even those co-opted and serving as MLA for a matter of months (Pol Callaghan) received over £3,500.

For the record, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation provide the following definition of poverty (or, more accurately, ‘relative poverty’)

A household is defined as having a low income (‘poverty’ for short) if its income is less than 60% of the median UK household income for the year in question.