Poynted remarks

IssueAugust - September 2023
Comment by Claire Poyner

A couple of months ago, the prime minister claimed that ‘we’d moved beyond judging people for being rich’.

I’ve thought about that a bit since then. I’ve thought about my auntie saying how she resented footballers’ and pop stars’ massive salaries (when compared with for example, NHS workers). I didn’t say much at that time but I did wonder why footballers? They surely have a career of limited length even if they then go into management or training.

And why pop stars, given that most don’t, in fact, earn massive salaries and many seem to be one-hit wonders and don’t have the longevity of the Rolling Stones or Elton John?

Especially given that my auntie, like me, has never knowingly contributed to the massive salaries of any footballers. She was also unlikely to have contributed to the salaries of any pop stars. OK, I have undoubtedly contributed to a few pop stars salaries, mostly David Bowie, I think. But that is my choice, just as it’s the choice of some to go to football matches.

I wondered why she didn’t mention the salaries of directors of large companies, many of which most of us have had to contribute towards because, like, there’s no choice really, if you want to heat your home or flush your loo. Senior staff who like to take massive bonuses as well as their regular salaries. (What sort of bonus do you think PN staff get?)

Take the water companies, which have bosses earning phone number salaries. Thames Water boss Sarah Bentley on £2mn a year got a £727,000 windfall in 2022. Even as the water companies are asking for us the consumers to pay extra to clean up their product.

Yes, I am contributing to that salary. And I resent that, not so much Harry Maguire’s salary. [Harry Maguire is a professional football player with Manchester United; his base salary this year is £9.9mn – ed]

Also worthwhile noting that, despite some people on social media arguing against charity boss salaries, these are generally nothing at all like the bosses of similar size profit-making companies (or non-profit-making in the case of water companies apparently, how does that even work?).

So, have I gone beyond judging people for being rich? I suppose it depends on who they are and how they got their wealth and how they spend their wealth and how wealthy they actually are.

I remember a boyfriend of my sister’s insisting we as a family were wealthy. Living in a three-bed semi in the outer London suburbs, with a father working for a trades union and a mum working part-time as a clerk typist. So, not particularly wealthy, though certainly getting by. It’s all relative, isn’t it.

My sister’s response was that we, as a family, believe that everyone should be able to live like that should they want to – that is, in a decent home suitable for our needs (but no bigger, mind) and not to have to worry about heating or eating.

I know a couple of people who have big houses (I’d count as big those with a spare bedroom and multiple floors, in case you’re wondering) and work in professions such as the law. I’d call them wealthy, though not to their faces because, you know, they might not actually be wealthy at all. Without access to their bank balances I wouldn’t know, just judging (oops) on the size of their houses.

I also know someone who owns their own home, bought at just the right time, and has paid off their mortgage. No doubt they’re better off than me since they don’t have rent to pay, live in a cheaper part of the country, and have a decent enough paid job (in fact can choose the hours they work). Not judging them, either (I’m using they/them just in case they read this and don’t want to be identified!).

Do I judge them for their income, as I see it? Well, no, because these are people I know who I believe are working for the good of society. Or earning a decent living making useful stuff we all need and not making massive profits (as far as I can tell). And none of them are hiding money away in tax havens (again, as far as I can tell).

That’s the crux of the matter, Rishi Sunak. Where does your millionaire wife live again?

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