OPINION: Small voice in the pay debate

Sorry to be a party pooper, but I don't think that chief executives in the voluntary sector are poorly paid.

Judging by the response to the latest pay survey (Third Sector, 18 September), I'm in a minority. First the facts: there is a large gap between the rewards for top jobs in the voluntary sector and those in other sectors. You can now expect to earn on average 25 per cent less if you lead a voluntary-sector organisation. And it is claimed that it is increasingly difficult to attract the best for chief executive posts because the rewards are so poor.

But rather than be embarrassed about the sector's pay record, we ought to be proud. After all, it is not as if voluntary-sector chief executives, in the main, earn peanuts. The latest survey shows that chief executives earn on average more than ?xA3;50,000 a year. Even with rising house prices and the pressures of living in a highly consumer society, these are not paltry wages.

The sector should also be proud of having one of the better records on wage equality. It is often forgotten that the single most important factor driving the gap between rich and poor in the UK has been the polarity in earnings. Government attempts to reduce inequality through (often quiet) redistribution have had little impact in the face of the unrelenting growth in wage inequality.

The voluntary sector has not succumbed to a fat-cat mentality. Few chief executives are in it for the money. And many voluntary-sector organisations are conscious of sharing the rewards of hard work among their staff.

Is yours among them? Here's a simple test. Take the salary of your organisation's chief executive and divide it by the salary of your least well paid member of staff. What do you get? Most people agree that those who work hard and have greater share of responsibilities should be rewarded for their skills and efforts, but 10, 20 or 30 times more than those who are least valued?

Many voluntary-sector organisations have decided that such inequalities are difficult to justify and are setting a good example. It is something we ought to celebrate.

LISA HARKER, deputy director of the Institute for Public Policy Research

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