Most of the media attention on Monday – at the publication of the British Social Attitudes Survey – was on a hardening of sentiment towards benefits, as the FT reported yesterday. The British public are less keen on generous social security payments than at any time in the last three decades.
But as Left Foot Forward points out, the survey does not show an overwhelming drift to the right in all respects. When it comes to pay differentials the public believe that top directors and public sector officials are paid too much.
I’ve just gone back through the survey, which shows that 78 per cent of people believe the gap between high and low incomes is too large. Asked if “ordinary working people do not get their fair share of the nation’s wealth“, 60 per cent agreed, 24 per cent had no opinion and only 14 per cent disagreed.
57 per cent said they believed that government had a duty to reduce income differentials while only 19 per cent disagreed.
There are also some interesting findings about the appropriate ratio between high-paid and low-paid staff. Apparently the public believe that chairs of large companies should earn 6 times a typical factory worker and a cabinet minister 4 times.
In reality, a cabinet minister earns 7 times that wage while the average FTSE 100 chief last year took home total remuneration of 88 times their lowest-paid worker; up 55 per cent on the previous year.
(Will Hutton has suggested in his official review of public sector pay that no one should earn more than 20 times their lowest-paid member of staff.)
This part of the survey flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that is it political suicide to criticise high pay or talk about redistribution.