During the most recent junior doctors’ strike in England, we saw a number of different claims made about how their pay demands compare to recent salary increases for MPs.
The claims quoted a range of different figures and dates, but generally suggested that the pay increase MPs have seen in recent years is either equivalent to or more generous than the pay uplift junior doctors are now asking for.
Some of the claims are misleading because they directly compare a figure which factors in inflation with one that does not, while in some cases the figures themselves do not appear to be accurate.
In cash terms, between 2008/09 and 2021/22 MPs’ salaries increased by 29%, while the BMA says junior doctors’ basic pay rose by 17%. If you factor in Retail Price Index (RPI) inflation, both groups have had a real-terms pay cut, though MPs have had a proportionally smaller one than junior doctors.
We’ve seen many misleading claims about pay during recent industrial disputes, including claims about junior doctors’ pay demands, how much it would cost to raise nurses’ pay and how much nurses’ pay is rising. It’s essential that all sides use accurate information when talking about pay, so that the public can understand the facts about what people earn, what unions are asking for, and how much a pay uplift might cost.
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What claims were made?
On 12 April, Labour MP Ian Byrne tweeted: “Today a doctor on the picket line said to me: ‘MPs have had a 42.7% increase since 2008, Junior Doctors have had a 25% decrease since 2010. So let’s not have MPs saying that pay restoration for doctors is unaffordable. We have families to feed as well.’ A fair point indeed.”
It is not clear how the figures given to Mr Byrne by the unnamed doctor have been calculated so we do not know if they refer to cash or real-terms changes, but they don’t appear to be quite right. Mr Byrne told us that he did not wish to comment, so we’ve looked at the closest figures we can find.
In cash terms, MPs’ salaries have risen about 37% over the last fifteen years, from £63,291 in April 2008 to £86,584 in April 2023, compared to the 42.7% in the tweet. The British Medical Association (BMA) has claimed that over a slightly different time period—between 2008/09 and 2021/22—junior doctors had a 26% real-terms pay cut factoring in RPI inflation, but we have been unable to check if the tweeted figure has been calculated in a similar way.
As we’ve said, it is unclear from the tweet what the figures refer to, but if a similar comparison is being made then this wouldn’t be accurate as a cash-terms uplift cannot be directly compared to a real-terms decrease.
On 10 April, GP Dr Amir Khan told ITV’s Good Morning Britain that it was “hypocritical” of ministers to say striking junior doctors could not be given a 35% pay uplift when MPs have had a 30% pay increase since 2008.
Dr Khan, who appears regularly on the show, said: “They’ve [junior doctors] had a 26% real-terms pay cut since 2008-2009 and now they are taking a stand against what they feel is pay restoration.
“People will look at this figure that they’ve cited, that 35%, as quite high, maybe even unrealistic, but for the most junior doctors that’s the difference between £14 an hour and £19 an hour.
“[Health secretary] Steve Barclay himself has said it’s unrealistic but MPs have had a pay rise over that same period of time of about 30%. That’s £20,000. So I think it is quite hypocritical of them to say ’well actually no, paying you what we’ve been paid is unfair and unrealistic’.”
Speaking on Lorraine later that morning, Dr Khan said: “Since 2008-2009 they [junior doctors] have had a real-terms pay cut of around 26%, on top of that there’s inflation, that takes it up to 35%.” (This isn’t quite right, as we’ll go on to explain.)
He added: “MPs have had a real-terms pay rise of up to £20,000—that’s 30%.”
Dr Khan was right that MPs’ annual salaries have risen by around 30% (29%, to be more precise) from £63,291 in April 2008 to £81,932 in April 2021—the years used in the BMA calculation for junior doctors’ pay. But again, this increase is in cash terms, not real terms, and so does not take account of inflation.
The 29% cash terms rise MPs saw between 2008/09 and 2021/22 cannot be directly compared with the 35% uplift junior doctors are now asking for, because as we explain below, in order to have kept pace with RPI inflation since 2008, MPs’ salaries would have needed to rise by much more than 29% in cash terms.
Dr Khan was also wrong to later claim that MPs have had a 30% real-terms pay rise. As above, MPs saw a cash-terms rise of 29% in this period, but in real terms, factoring in RPI inflation, MPs’ pay fell.
We contacted ITV and Dr Khan for comment. ITV said it did not wish to comment, but we will update this piece if Dr Khan responds.
Full Fact also approached Professor Mamas A. Mamas, a professor of interventional cardiology at Keele University, whose 12 April tweet on this topic was shared hundreds of times. Professor Mamas wrote in response to the health secretary that MPs have “enjoyed a 36% increase in pay” since 2010 and asked: “Why do you deserve fair pay, and yet junior doctors are told that they are unrealistic asking for the same as you?”
Again, these figures aren’t directly comparable, so it is misleading to suggest junior doctors are asking for “the same” as MPs have been given. The 35% uplift junior doctors have asked for is to reverse a real-terms reduction in their pay. MPs’ basic annual salaries rose by 32% in cash terms between 2010 and 2023, but that was not enough to prevent them having a real-terms reduction in their pay factoring in RPI inflation. Professor Mamas told us he made a mistake with his figure for MPs, and did not comment on the figures not being directly comparable.
What do the figures show in cash and real terms?
According to the BMA, in cash terms (not accounting for inflation) junior doctors’ basic pay in England went up by around 17% from 2008/09 to 2021/22.
The BMA claims that because pay awards for junior doctors have been below the rate of inflation, their pay has fallen over that period by about 26% in real terms based on RPI. It says that a 35% pay rise is needed to reverse these cuts—we’ve written about these figures before.
However, factoring in RPI inflation, MPs have also had a real-terms pay cut over the same period.
The claims we’ve looked at quoted figures across a range of different dates. But Office for National Statistics data suggests that between April 2009 and April 2022, RPI inflation increased by around 58%.
It’s hard to do an exact real-terms comparison for several reasons—for example, junior doctors’ pay is generally more complicated than MPs’ pay, which is set at a single annual rate. But Full Fact’s rough calculations, which were also checked by an independent economist, suggest that using the BMA’s methodology to factor in RPI inflation, MPs’ pay may have fallen in real-terms by around 18% between 2008/09 and 2021/22. That figure might vary depending on the precise calculation, but it’s clear that factoring in RPI inflation, MPs have had a real-terms reduction in pay, though a proportionally smaller one than junior doctors.
It is worth noting that the RPI measure has been criticised by some economic experts, who suggest it “is not fit for purpose”—the Institute for Fiscal Studies has argued that CPIH (the Consumer Prices Index including owner occupiers’ housing costs) is a better measure, and has calculated using that measure that junior doctors have seen an 11-16% real-terms reduction in average annual earnings since 2010. However RPI is generally supported by many unions, and some other experts have said that alternative measures have weaknesses when it comes to measuring changes in the cost of living.
All the figures in the comparisons above relate only to junior doctors’ basic pay and MPs’ basic annual salaries. Junior doctors often receive extra earnings, for example for working evenings and weekends. MPs can also often earn extra on top of their basic salary, for example because they have a ministerial or parliamentary role or have a second job. They also receive expenses to cover the cost of employing staff, having somewhere to live in their constituency or in London, and travel.
Image courtesy of Ugur Akdemir.