Nadia Whittome: I give half my MP salary to charity – we don’t need lucrative second jobs

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 19: Labour MP for Nottingham East Nadia Whittome attends Andrew Marr's BBC Political Sunday Morning Show at BBC Broadcast House on on January 19, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Ollie Millington/Getty Images)
Nadia Whittome, MP for Nottingham East, donates more than half her salary to charity. (PA Images)

To Nadia Whittome, the idea that MPs should need to take on lucrative second jobs to get by is bizarre.

At 25, the MP for Nottingham East is the youngest in the House of Commons, and was dubbed "Baby of the House" after entering parliament aged just 22 in 2019.

It's not just her age that sets her apart from her colleagues – Whittome also gives half her salary to charity.

Amid a growing row over sleaze in the Tory party, multiple stories have emerged in recent weeks of MPs – largely Conservatives – earning huge sums in addition to their £82,000 pay packets.

Watch: MPs should be able to have second jobs, says minister

This has led to accusations of MPs neglecting their constituents, as well as raising questions over conflicts of interest. Former Tory attorney general, Sir Geoffrey Cox, earned more than £1m in the last year working as a lawyer - including for work advising the British Virgin Islands, a tax haven accused of corruption by the British government.

Former prime minister and Tory MP Theresa May, was paid up to £11,700 an hour for making virtual speeches during the coronavirus pandemic, adding to earnings of more than £750,000 between April 2020 and May 2021.

And Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former Conservative work and pensions secretary, took part in a task force recommending that alcohol-free hand sanitisers should be formally recognised for use – while being paid £25,000 a year by an alcohol-free hand sanitiser company.

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One even suggested that MPs should be paid more, something Whittome brands ludicrous. “It wasn’t for charity, it was always about solidarity for me," Whittome told Yahoo UK on giving away half her earnings.

"I came into parliament as a workers representative, and so I take a worker’s salary, because I don’t want to be on a salary that massively separates me from the people I represent."

According to the Office for National Statistics, the average salary in the UK is around £32,000 per year.

Whittome stressed that, even after the donation of a large chunk of her salary, she still earns a good wage.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20: Caroline Lucas MP (L), Zarah Sultana MP (C) and Nadia Whittome MP (R) speak to supporters on October 20, 2021 in London, England. At Labour's recent conference in Brighton, the party set out a raft of measures to encourage a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Whittome worked as a carer last year at the beginning of the pandemic. (Getty Images)

"It’s still a lot of money, I take home £35,000, that’s a lot more than I was ever raised on, it’s still plenty to live on," she said.

"But the suggestion that £82,000 is not enough for for people to live on is just ludicrous.

"It puts us in the top 5% of earners.”

Last month, the Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley told the New Statesman that MPs should be paid more money.

He said that, while he was financially stable, the situation for his younger colleagues is "desperately difficult" and "really grim" .

"I don't know how they get by," he added.

His remarks came in the aftermath of the government cutting £20 per week from Universal Credit, which campaigners warned could push 800,000 people into poverty.

EMBARGOED TO 0800 TUESDAY MAY 25 File photo dated 14/03/21 of Labour MP Nadia Whittome, who has been told to take
Whittome said it is "ludicrious" that there are MPs saying their salaries are not high enough. (Getty Images)

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson announced proposals to rein in MPs' outside interests due to what his spokesperson described as the "strength of public feeling".

“It is imperative that we put beyond doubt the reputation of the House of Commons," he said.

"That is why the PM has written to Speaker.”

The government's announcement came as Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, held a press conference calling on the government to clamp down on second jobs ahead of a vote in parliament tabled by the party on the issue.

They have described Johnson's announcement as a victory, but will still continue with the vote tomorrow on the basis the proposals aren't comprehensive enough.

Whittome says the controversy in the Conservative party around MP salaries, second jobs, and lobbying is demonstrative of a government out of touch.

"It's the latest evidence of this Conservative government being out of out of touch at best," she said. "They know that, by cutting £20 a week from people's Universal Credit, they're pushing people into deeper poverty.

"They knew when they voted against giving children free school meals during school holidays that that that would mean children going hungry."

However, Whittome doesn't support banning all second jobs for MPs. She has had one herself, working as a carer during the coronavirus pandemic.

She jokes that, unlike some of her colleagues in parliament, she didn't "do it for the money".

What she does oppose are the lucrative corporate appointments that have thrown up issues over lobbying and influence.

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Labour MP for Nottingham East Nadia Whittome addresses an audience at a fringe event for political festival The World Transformed, on the fourth day of the Labour Party conference on September 28, 2021 in Brighton, England. Labour return to Brighton for their in-person 2021 conference from Saturday 25 to Wednesday 29 September. This will be Keir Starmer's first conference as party Leader. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Whittome has called for a ban on "lucrative second jobs". (Getty Images)

"I think that there’s a huge difference between, for example, going back during the pandemic to work as a care worker, or working as a doctor or nurse, and earning £6m from second jobs, including from tax havens," she said.

"We should absolutely ban lucrative second jobs, but that should just be the start of it.

"We also need anti-corruption legislation that actively roots out corruption in institutions, and implement sanctions for it, preventative actions.”

She has also previously said that saying MP salaries should be higher to appeal to the "best and brightest" is offensive.

"The answer to MPs taking lucrative second jobs isn’t to raise MPs’ £81,932 salaries even further. Just ban them," she said.

"And justifying increasing MPs’ salaries “to attract the brightest and the best” is frankly an insult to the vast majority of workers who don’t earn anywhere near £80K."

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Whittome says she's in an interesting position as the youngest MP in the House when it comes to witnessing the conduct of her colleagues, some of whom have been in parliament for far longer than she's been an adult.

“It doesn’t surprise me, because I think that a lot of people here just ultimately represent different interests to the ones that that we represent," she said.

"You have to laugh at the people who say that people like me don’t have life experience, when their definition of life experience is lobbying for huge corporations, as a side hustle to earning hundreds of thousands of pounds.

"They defend their second incomes while at the same time cutting over more £1,000 a year for sixmillion families in the UK.”

Watch: Nadia Whittome excited to return to parliament, following leave of absence