‘We can’t switch off’: MP employee reveals psychological pressure | Politics

A A survey of nearly 200 staff members working for several MPs, the first of its kind in the UK, found that nearly half met the medical threshold for mental distress – more than double the level in the general population.

An anonymous employee shared his experience while trying to serve the public:

No one who works for an MP expects sympathy. After all, we are part of the hated “Westminster bubble”, tarred with the same toxicity our bosses experience because of their political affiliations. We are extremely proud to contribute to the democratic process and hopefully make a real difference in the lives of voters. But the staffing for MPs is in dire straits.

The days often start the same: working through an inbox full of abuse, photos of maimed children in war-torn countries, voters desperately in need of help, and whatever else is going on. The phone rings and a distressed voice at the end of the line contemplates suicide. Or maybe it’s a victim of childhood sexual abuse who relays details of their horrible experiences and seeks support for their mental health.

Listening to and trying to solve problems you have no expertise in takes its toll. We are not trained for this. We have no accreditations or people to guide us. We can’t switch off at the end of the day. Politics never sleeps, so it’s best to be available 24/7.

It’s never been this bad. I’ve been there for over a decade and major crises occurred every now and then. A few late nights with all hands at the pumps and we were able to weather the storm. The past few years have been different. Brexit, Covid, Afghanistan, Ukraine and the cost of living crisis have dominated every moment of a parliamentary staffer. The infinite pressure has touched most of us. Many of my colleagues have moved on or suffer from stress, anxiety or depression.

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When things go wrong, for example due to a burnout or an argument with a boss who also struggles under constant pressure, relationships start to break down. There is no HR, no mediation and no pastoral care. Toxicity is rampant and growing without a good manager to intervene, but they too often have their backs against the wall in coordinating responses to crises.

Things have to change. Parliament is slow to adapt because it is held by tradition and process. But we now have a speaker who cares about key staff and MPs who understand what we are going through. The time has come to make Parliament a leader in labor practices: making HR and mediation available, providing relevant training and ensuring that offices have the capacity and ability to care for their staff.

With nearly 3,500 Parliamentarians in Westminster and across the UK, we are an integral part of what MPs do. Unless we improve working life in MPs’ offices, tackle the causes of mental strain and promote talent retention, democracy will be worse off in the long run, as will some of my former colleagues.

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