The Wellness Working Group is a cross party group of MPs’ staff with the aim of placing a focus on staff welfare and improving support for MPs’ staff well-being. Support mechanisms have tended to focus almost exclusively on Members and House Staff, with MPs’ staff needs often being forgotten or left in the background. The uniqueness of working for an MP cannot be overstated. The Wellness Working Group is firmly of the belief that more needs to be done to recognise the often complex and challenging role of MPs’ staff and the unparalleled challenges they face. Many staff have already shared their experiences and we are keen to hear from as many MPs’ staff as possible, regardless of party colours since the challenges we face are some that only MPs’ staff will be fully able to relate to.
MPs’ staff are increasingly under pressure with intense workloads and are often dealing with very distressed and vulnerable constituents who bring issues that are harrowing and emotionally demanding. The cumulative effect of this type and volume of work can have impacts on our own mental health. This makes it crucial that we have measures in place to cope and be able to look after ourselves. It is only by looking after ourselves that we will be able to continue perform well and to help others. Staff are often overstretched, which in a crisis gets worse. Also, staff are often left with lots of distressing details and nowhere ‘to put’ them. This is not exclusive to caseworkers. Administrators are often the first point of contact in the office by answering the phone or filtering the inbox and researchers and parliamentary assistants can be involved in very harrowing topics for debates. Office managers are often in a difficult place between the Member and the staff team and many find themselves picking up any additional workload the team faces. In addition, they often feel responsible for their team’s well-being, which can be especially difficult given the harrowing nature of the work, whilst perhaps not having the same outlet or well-being support that they are providing to their teams. The Wellness Working Group believes more adequate support needs to be put in place for MPs’ staff well-being. Furthermore, training on mental health ought to be offered so that a greater focus is placed on self-care, allowing staff to be better equipped to cope with demanding and important work.
The increase in the number of campaigns and heated nature of politics means it is common for MPs’ staff to be put in the position of answering aggressive correspondence, directed to their Member as a public figure, and feeling the force of people’s anger. This extends to threats and abuse made to staff who have not signed up to be publicly accountable. So often staff are isolated, whether in small offices in Westminster or in constituency offices all around the country. Now with Covid-19 and home working, we are conscious that staff might feel even more disconnected and overwhelmed with the work they are facing. We understand many staff relied on their workplace for social interaction and support, which has been somewhat lost in many cases, also meaning boundaries between home and work are blurred.
We were pleased that IPSA added £4000 to the MPs’ staffing budget for well-being and training recently. We see this as a starting point in staff welfare being recognised as a concept and see that we have much further to go if staff welfare is to be properly considered. The Wellness Working Group has several aims, which include: developing a well-being policy, establishing peer support networks that could provide a space to share experiences, knowledge and expertise whilst creating more of a sense of community, the provision of better mental health training and having a ring-fenced budget from IPSA so that well-being costs do not have to come from already stretched budgets, to name a few.
We would encourage you to join our Group because it is by supporting one another that we can make a difference. What we have in common as staff is unique. Working for an MP is a job that is often hard to describe to those who have not experienced it. Members of the Group come from all parts of the UK and from all political parties. We understand that the challenges may differ but all are equally valid when people are struggling. So far we have held meetings in Scotland and in London, but we are now holding these meetings virtually. We are trying to avoid the focus being on people reaching crisis point and more on creating something that helps people to avoid that point, or recover quickly if they do.