Report: UK parliament staff face ‘damaging’ stress levels and abuse at work

LONDON — U.K. parliamentary staff and MPs face a “damaging” atmosphere of confrontation and abuse as part of their jobs, according to a new report on working life at Westminster.

Staff reported they face persistent conflict and an unmanageable workload, with more than a third of parliamentary workers saying that working in Westminster has a negative impact on their mental health — higher than the national benchmark.

It comes amid intense scrutiny of the culture and working practices at the heart of the British political establishment following a series of misconduct allegations against MPs.

Seventy-two percent of parliamentary workers interviewed by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said they felt excessive pressure at work, while 33 percent had experienced conflict at work in the last 12 months.

Of those, 22 percent said they had been undermined or humiliated, 10 percent said they had been verbally abused or insulted, while others reported instances of sexual harassment and one case of sexual assault.

The CIPD survey was commissioned by the All-Party Group for Compassionate Politics with the support of House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, and spoke to 315 people in total at the end of 2021, 297 of who were staff and 18 of who were MPs.

Half of those interviewed said the independent complaints process was not helpful, and 65 percent of incidents at work have gone unresolved, the research suggested. 

Staff were less likely to feel safe on the parliamentary estate than MPs, with women feeling less safe than men. 

Compassion in Politics, a cross-party think tank that supports the work of the APPG for Compassionate Politics, called for a significant overhaul of working practices in light of the findings. 

MPs should stop directly employing staff and set up an independent HR function, introduce mandatory workplace training, and scrap the time limit for staff reporting bullying allegations, the think tank argued.

Jennifer Nadel, co-director of Compassion in Politics, said: “We’ve got a political system that is high on conflict and low on compassion. As this report shows, that’s damaging to the people who work within it and destructive to those it is meant to serve.”

Speaker Hoyle stressed: “I want parliament to be a good place to work — where we feel respected, supported, have a good work-life balance and the right training, and is free of discrimination, bullying and harassment.”

He underlined his commitment to holding a speaker’s conference — a special cross-party committee — to discuss these issues “as soon as possible.”

The conference is expected to examine calls for an independent HR service and proposals for banning MPs accused of serious misconduct from the parliamentary estate.