IPSA and democracy
Date published: 15 November 2022
Democracy can be defined as a belief that everyone has equal rights and a system of government based on this belief. Crucial ingredients for a healthy democracy include accountability, transparency, openness and participation, all of which need to be maintained for democracy to thrive.
According to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, democracy is not easy or inevitable. Countries must have a commitment to accountability, inclusion, representation, and openness to protect individual rights to achieve sustainable economic growth and effective social policies.
The UK has a representative – or parliamentary – democracy where power is granted to elected representatives who are trusted to make decisions on behalf of the people they represent. Power is based on public support – therefore, trust is another vital ingredient in democracy.
Trust in politicians
The 2009 expenses scandal severely impacted public trust in politicians.
An annual veracity index by Ipsos MORI measures trust across a range of professions, from nurses to advertising executives. It found trust in politicians peaked in 1999 at 23% before reaching a 40-year low in 2009 when only 13% of people said they trusted politicians.
Trust has fluctuated in the years since, but the 2021 index found 19% of people trusted politicians. While this isn’t a return to pre-scandal levels, it does reflect a 46% improvement compared to 2009.
The expenses scandal became a significant democratic crisis as it exposed an apparent disregard for the essential ingredients of democracy – accountability, transparency and openness, from the people whose job it is to govern in our democracy. It therefore became a significant democratic crisis.
MPs sought to rebuild public trust and ensure a similar democratic crisis could not happen again. The Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 created an independent body to set, regulate and administer MPs’ pay and business costs. This was the birth of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA).
Since the creation of IPSA, the controversy surrounding MPs’ business costs has reduced as we have worked to ensure MPs are resourced appropriately to carry out their parliamentary duties while also safeguarding public money.
Many factors impact trust in politicians, but we know from public sentiment research that cynicism regarding MPs’ use of public money continues. Our research found misconceptions about what MPs can and can’t claim still exist. It also found that low awareness of IPSA as the independent regulator contributes towards a residual lack of trust.
Accountability and transparency
MPs are accountable for the money they spend. They are given budgets to help them support and represent their constituents. They are responsible for the costs they incur, and any claims they make from public funds.
MPs’ pay and business costs are open and transparent. Every two months we publish MPs’ spending data on our website, and once a year we publish MPs’ total spend data for the previous financial year including salaries and other costs not included in the bi-monthly data publication. This gives the public, interest groups and the media the opportunity to scrutinise how MPs use public money.
Our blog All you need to know about annual publication explains why it is difficult to judge the value of an MP’s work on the amount of the IPSA budget they spend, but it is important the public has access to this information.
The UK is one of the few countries in the world that manages MPs’ business costs independently and transparently.
Although borne out of controversy, IPSA is now a world leader in the independent regulation of MPs’ pay and business costs.
Controversy surrounding MPs’ use of public money can impact participation in democracy. After the 2009 scandal, people became disillusioned with politics and this impacts many forms of participation – from influencing how people vote, to discouraging potential candidates from entering an environment that is overtly critical and distrustful.
Scrutiny is important and we are here to safeguard public money so that constituents can judge their MP on the work they do and their involvement in the important issues of the day. Providing funding for MPs to carry out their work ensures there are no financial barriers to someone working as an MP, which helps the UK have a diverse and representative parliament.
This is particularly important for those with children (known as dependants), or their own health conditions. We provide funding for both ongoing reasonable adjustments for disabilities and staffing cover for when MPs are absent from Westminster for an extended period to look after a child, assume another caring responsibility, or for their own health and recovery.
IPSA’s role in democracy
IPSA is a small part of a large political landscape. By carrying out our function independently and transparently we work to reassure the public that their money is being spent responsibly – and regulated effectively – to maintain a healthy UK democracy.