Unjust Rewards: public opinion on CEO pay

Over the past 40 years, the pay of chief executives in the United Kingdom has skyrocketed while the wages of average workers have stagnated. As a consequence, very high executive pay and the structures that underlie it have become major drivers of income inequality in the UK.  Polling form our latest briefing note, Unjust rewards: public opinion on CEO pay‘, shows extremely high levels of concern among the public around the issue of executive pay. The Opinium poll of 2,000 UK adults shows that: 

  • 73% of respondents agreed that “the gap in pay between average workers and the highest paid executives in the UK is too wide.”
  • 77% of respondents agree that “companies that benefited from public support through the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g. the government furlough scheme) should not be increasing the pay of their highest paid executives.”
  • 72% agreed that “government action and regulation is needed to ensure companies provide a more equitable distribution of pay between chief executives and average workers”, and 64% agreed that “the government should set a maximum salary for executives relative to workers.

The polling shows a clear majority in favour of government action to tackle disparities in pay. We recommend that the government considers measures to target executive pay directly (such as introducing a surcharge to corporation tax based on a ratio of CEO to worker pay), as well as broader measures aimed at rebalancing power in the corporation, such as reforming section 172 of the Companies Act, and introducing mandatory worker representation on boards, sectoral bargaining and profit sharing.

This research was funded by Friends Provident Foundation, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and donations from supporters.