Stop shouting about bonuses!

Yet more high profile people ‘choosing’ to forego their bonuses today. It feels like the whole country is unified in opposing bonuses, certainly our politicians seem to be queuing up to stick the boot into anyone who might be eligible for one.

I wonder if I’m alone in feeling uncomfortable about this?

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the impact of increasing income inequality. But this doesn’t feel like a concerted effort to address these issues or to reduce high pay more generally. Hardly ever do discussions around bonuses refer to the wider remuneration package. Someone who gets a £4m pay/shares package alongside a £1m bonus? It’s not the bonus I’d be most inclined to shout about. I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with having a bonus element to a pay packet, so long as there’s clarity and consistency over what does and doesn’t warrant the award of the bonus. If the government were making noises about high pay more generally, or even showing the slightest concern for the fates of those on low to middle incomes, I’d perhaps feel more comfortable with their current uncharacteristic stance.

Some of the poor sods who’ve fallen foul of the anti-bonus lynch mob this week include those working at Network Rail. Now I get as frustrated with the trains as the next person. But as far as I’m aware these executives have met expected performance and their pay agreements include the award of these bonuses. It seems like their only mistake was the have their bonuses made public one week after RBS. If this had come out in early January or late March we’d probably have moved onto the next storm in a teacup and they’d have got away with it.

I feel no affinity for those in receipt of sky high bonuses. And I’d love to bring the salaries of the super rich down to a level that’s at least in the same universe as the average worker, if not the same ball park. But this lynch mob approach doesn’t feel like it’s doing anything except hide the massive welfare benefit cuts which the coalition pushed through parliament this week. Or the rising levels of unemployment, especially amongst the young. Or the fact that cuts in local services have only just begun. Getting occasionally hysterical about bonuses is just a distraction. It sets up a straw man or two for all who are struggling in ‘austerity Britain’ to scream at. Instead of focusing on the real people who are screwing us over – our politicians.

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