About

The High Pay Centre is an independent, non-partisan think tank focused on the causes and consequences of economic inequality, with a particular interest in top pay. It runs a programme of research, events and policy analysis involving business, trade unions, investors and civil society focused on achieving an approach to pay practices that enjoys the confidence of all stakeholders.

Our team

Luke Hildyard
Director

Luke previously worked as Deputy Director of HPC from 2012-2015. He was subsequently Policy Lead for Corporate Governance and Stewardship at the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association, the trade body for UK pension fund investors, before returning as Director in March 2018. He has authored reports on subjects including inequality, corporate governance and responsible investment and has also previously worked for a number of think tanks and in local government.

Andrew Speke
Head of Communications

Andrew joined the High Pay Centre in July 2019. He has been a passionate campaigner since his student days at the University of Manchester when he was involved in a number of campaigns on climate change and tuition fees and held the Environment and Ethics portfolio on the Student Union’s Council. More recently he spent 5 years working for the EU and UK governments in China in a number of different roles, including leading the UK’s cooperation with China on projects focused on poverty reduction and tackling inequality, including on the rise of CSR and corporate philanthropy in China. Andrew holds an undergraduate degree in Chinese Studies from the University of Manchester.

Rachel Kay
Researcher

Rachel joined the High Pay Centre in March 2020. She has a long-standing interest in work and pay: prior to joining the High Pay Centre, she was a researcher in Lord Robert Skidelsky’s parliamentary office where she assisted him with a report commissioned by John McDonnell MP, ‘How to Achieve Shorter Working Hours’. Rachel holds an MPhil in Development Studies from the University of Cambridge, for which she carried out research into how market traders in Central Asia experience their work. She is now incorporating this research into a co-authored book for Rowman and Littlefield International and Policy Network.

Our board

Nick Isles Chair

Nick is Managing Director of Corporate Agenda an advice and consultancy business working with clients across the private, voluntary and public sectors. Until autumn of 2008 he was Director of Advocacy at The Work Foundation and remains an Associate adviser. He is also a Fellow of the Smith Institute, the Centre for Leadership Innovation at the University of Bedforshire and Royal Society of Arts. He worked as an advisor to the high level group that re-drafted the European Union’s Lisbon strategy in 2005 under the chairmanship of former Dutch premier Wim Kok. He has written and spoken on a wide range of public policy issues connected to the economy, including European affairs, the labour market, organisational performance, leadership, welfare reform, finance, corporate governance and CSR.

Deborah Hargreaves Founder and Director

Deborah was the Chair of the independent High Pay Commission, and Founding Director of the High Pay Centre from 2011 to 2015. She is the former business editor of the Guardian, a post she held from 2006 to 2010. She has written extensively about executive remuneration and other business issues both in print and online. She previously worked at the Financial Times where she was news editor and before that, financial editor. She held a variety of posts over 19 years at the FT including personal finance editor and as a foreign correspondent in Brussels and Chicago.

Daniel Stilitz QC Director

Daniel is a barrister at 11KBW Chambers, specialising in employment, public and business law. After studying at New College, Oxford and City University, he was called to the Bar in 1992. Prior to taking silk, he was a member of the Attorney General’s ‘A’ Panel of counsel and acted for the Government in public law and human rights cases. His practice now focuses particularly on the financial services and professional services sectors, and includes bonus disputes, and whistleblowing and discrimination claims. He regularly writes on legal and related topics, and is the editor of the Butterworths Local Government Reports. He also sits as a mediator and is a member of the CEDR Solve Mediator Panel.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Director

Baroness Ruth Lister of Burtersett is the Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at Loughborough University. In addition to being one of the UK’s foremost academic experts on poverty and inequality, Baroness Lister has also been a leading voice in policy on these topics in roles as former Director and now Honorary President of the Child Poverty Action Group. Her other positions include being Chair of the Compass Management Committee, board member of the Smith Institute and honorary President of the Social Policy Association. Baroness Lister sits in the House of Lords as a Labour peer, where her interests include social policy, poverty, inequality and gender equality.

Funding

Our current sources of funding for projects in 2019/20 are:

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) – £50,000

Standard Life Foundation – £62,000

The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust – £45,000

Barrow Cadbury – £31,500

Trust for London – £36,500

Oxfam – £4,000

The Trades Union Congress – £3,000

Our story

The High Pay Centre was launched in 2012 by Deborah Hargreaves, formerly a leading business journalist at the Guardian and Financial Times, following the final report of the High Pay Commission. The Commission had begun its work in late 2010, led by Deborah working alongside commissioners from the trade unions, NGOs, politics and the investment industry. 

At the time the Commission was convened, the UK was still grappling with the aftermath of the financial crisis – and yet with jobs and livelihoods under threat, and the country about to undergo a decade of public service cuts and pay stagnation for ordinary workers, pay for the CEOs of FTSE 100 companies (including many of those that played a key role in sparking the recession) stood at £4 million, while the share of total incomes accruing to the richest 1% stood at around 12% – more than double what it had been three decades earlier.

With the UK one of the most unequal economies in the developed world, the Commission agreed that an independent non-partisan think tank focused on pay at the top of the income scale and the causes and consequences of economic inequality, was needed on a more permanent basis.

Since then HPC research and policy analysis have influenced policy change, public debate and business practice on subjects including corporate governance, investment stewardship and employment rights. 

Our research publications are amongst the definitive data sources used to inform understanding of pay and inequality in the UK. Our commentary and analysis is frequently cited in the media. And our events bring together policymakers, business figures, NGOs, academics, trade unions and other stakeholders to discuss the pathway to fairer pay, worker voice and better business.

To get occasional updates on our work sign up here.

Our vision

The High Pay Centre’s work is dedicated to achieving a fairer pay distribution and reducing  inequality in the UK.

The pay practices of major employers are a critical determinant of people’s living standards. The balance between profits for investors and wages for workers, as well as how those wages are distributed between high, middle and low earners, have a profound impact on people’s incomes and thus their chances of a happy and fulfilling life.

Research also suggests that vast gaps between those at the top and everyone else are immensely damaging to social cohesion, democracy, political stability and public health and wellbeing.

Our research focuses on policy and business practice in areas such as corporate governance, employment rights and tax with a view to achieving better pay and conditions for low and middle income workers. We want workers to have greater say over their day-to-day working lives and businesses to make serving people and planet, rather than profit, their primary purpose.

Our campaigns

Worker representation

Worker representation on boards and remuneration committees should be mandatory for all major companies. Worker representation can help to ensure that the interests and views of workers are taken into account on issues including pay and conditions. It can improve decision-making by increasing diversity of thought and experience. In countries such as Germany where these policies already exist, there is lower inequality and evidence of companies with stronger worker voice having a better record of acting in the public interest.

Purpose beyond profit

There is an urgent need for us to move from a shareholder model of capitalism, driven solely by the pursuit of profit, to a stakeholder model where business serves the interests of society rather than vice versa. From Davos to the Business Roundtable, even some of the world’s most powerful businesspeople have publicly stated that business needs to significantly improve its social and environmental impact. Statements such as these must now be translated into actions. In the UK we advocate reforming the Companies Act to change the responsibilities of directors from being legally required to prioritise shareholders to one where the interests of workers, consumers, wider society and the environment are given equal priority.

Trade Union Rights

There is strong evidence of a correlation between the strength of trade unions in a country and lower inequality. In the UK the gap between the lowest and highest paid at listed companies began to grow rapidly in the 1980s with the introduction of anti-union legislation and the decline of trade union membership that followed. While trade union membership in the UK has increased in the past three years, levels remain low compared to many of our European neighbours and to historic levels. In a country where low-paid, precarious work proliferates, with one of the widest gaps between rich and poor in the developed world, stronger rights and representation at work are vital to our prosperity. We believe that strengthening trade union rights and expanding collective bargaining coverage is crucial to tackling the twin scourge of poverty pay for low and middle income workers and executive excess at the top.

Our impact

Over the last decade, HPC has played a key role in shaping policy and practice in relation to executive pay, corporate governance, employment rights and responsible business.

The ‘single figure’ for CEO pay

The 2013 Large and Medium Size Companies Regulations require companies to disclose a ‘single figure’ for total pay (including not just basic salary, but bonus, incentive payments, pensions and other benefits) for each of their directors. This was one of the key policy recommendations of the High Pay Commission. The publication of these pay packages in annual reports greatly improved transparency, ensuring that the public has a better understanding of the scale of vast CEO pay awards, and enables inter-company and historical comparisons of top pay levels at the UK’s biggest companies. HPC publishes an analysis of the figures each year in partnership with the CIPD, and provides commentary and data on top pay for the media.

Shareholder ‘say on pay’

The 2013 Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act gives shareholders a vote on their company’s pay policy, detailing what their CEO will be paid and what performance targets they have to achieve, as proposed by the High Pay Commission. The policy must be voted on at least every three years, and if it fails to gain shareholder approval, the board must propose a new policy. HPC analysis shows that shareholders have used this power sparingly.  However, there is little doubt that enhanced shareholder pressure – often driven by pension funds managing the savings of pension savers across the UK – has helped contain excessive pay since the ‘say on pay’ regime was introduced.

Pay ratio

Following long-standing pressure from HPC, most forcefully in our 2015 report ‘Pay Ratios: Just Do It’, new requirements were introduced in 2018, requiring Britain’s biggest companies to publish the pay gap between their CEOs and low and median earning employees. HPC research on the first disclosures published under this requirement in 2020 highlighted the potential to fund pay increases for low and middle earners by making redistributions from those at the top. The disclosures and research/campaigns that draw on them will increase pressure on companies to pay their lowest-paid workers fairly, and will undermine arguments for executive excess at the top and poverty pay at the bottom.

Corporate governance and stewardship

HPC has consistently argued that major companies should be run in the interest of all stakeholders, not just their executives and shareholders, and that investors in these companies should be accountable for their social and environmental impact. Between 2017 and 2020 the UK made a number of positive steps in this respect. The 2018 iteration of the UK Corporate Governance Code requires companies to report on how their directors have fulfilled their social and environmental responsibilities to sectors beyond their shareholders, and to introduce mechanisms for ensuring stakeholder voice in their corporate governance structures. HPC’s paper on performance-related pay called for corporations’ social and environmental performance to be a more central part of their business purpose, and for worker representation on company boards. We also called for equivalent requirements to be introduced for institutional investors – the UK Stewardship Code was strengthened significantly to this effect in 2020. There remains much progress to be made on corporate governance and stewardship but recent history gives grounds for optimism.

Responsible business and investment

Our 2020 annual survey of CEO pay showed that, since the High Pay Centre began scrutinising top pay and economic inequality in 2012, increases in CEO pay levels that had been more or less constant for the previous three decades have tailed off. Boards and investors increasingly recognise their responsibility over pay, while businesses understand their purpose in broader terms than the single-minded pursuit of profit, and the role that more even pay distribution can play in raising living standards for low and middle income workers. This was borne out in 2020 by companies’ responses to the COVID19 crisis – HPC research suggests that nearly 40% of FTSE 100 companies responded by the crisis by cutting top pay levels, while companies in receipt of government bail-outs agreed a number of social and environmental commitments in return for public funding. Despite these developments, polling suggests that public trust in business remains lower than it could be: identifying potential ways to rebuild this trust is an ongoing priority for HPC.