42% of MPs’ staff suffering psychological distress, study finds
A survey carried out by the University of Salford has found that many MPs’ caseworkers are struggling with workload, safety fears and the second-hand trauma of helping desperate constituents facing the effects of the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.
Dr Ashley Weinberg, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University, has been studying mental health in politics for 30 years, most recently working with the MPs' staff Wellness Working Group (WWG). After reporting on an initial survey of MPs' staff he conducted in 2021, a Speaker's Conference focused on the working conditions of MPs' staff has since been set up.
Ashley has now completed a follow-up survey of 315 parliamentary workers, the largest study of its kind. The results showed that many were struggling with the vicarious trauma of helping desperate people, many of whom are dealing with the worsening cost of living crisis. The follow-up was conducted with support from the University’s Innovation Strategy Discretionary Fund.
MPs’ caseworkers said there had been a “worrying upturn” in the number of suicidal people seeking their help in the past year. Two-thirds of those surveyed described their work as “emotionally draining” and one in 5 said it was “harrowing”.
The survey found 42% of MPs’ staff met the threshold for experiencing psychological distress, which is at least twice as high as in the general population and similar to levels seen in frontline NHS workers.
Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said they had feared for their own or their colleagues’ safety while at work.
Ashley presented the findings in a report to the Speaker's Conference in Westminster's Portcullis House. This involved a Q&A style session behind closed doors with a panel of MPs who are gathering evidence before making recommendations in their report due out later this year.
Ashley explained: “As members of the public, we don't often realise that MPs' staff are the people who put into action many of the things MPs do in their constituency and Parliamentary work; improving their working conditions, which are often without the rights so many of us take for granted, should also mean we all end up benefiting.
“What we’re seeing is people desperately trying to do a good job. But the challenges and the working conditions, and the sheer number of demands and workload, is overwhelming.”
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