As someone who has been around for a while (coming up to 14 years) I have seen first-hand just how much the roles of Parliamentary staff have changed in recent years. Not just in the way the work arrives (the inevitable shift towards digital rather than traditional post) but also the amount and the type.
The amount is easy to consider – you can in some way monitor the increase in emails you receive, cases you handle and the amount of staff it takes to clear the inbox; and it’s obvious that there is very little slack in the system. When a member of staff takes annual leave, or is away for short periods of sickness, they either continue to work (remotely), other staff have to take on additional work, or they return to a backlog. The nature of Parliamentary offices, and the limitations of the staffing budget, rarely allow for using temporary staff.
And every office dread losing a good caseworker; if/when they decide to leave. Staff turnover is high in Parliamentary offices, and with little progression available, plenty of staff stay for just a couple of years and then move on to better things. Not only do you then spend time recruiting and hiring someone new but training them as a Caseworker takes a lot of time when you have to cover so many different topics.
For those parliamentary staff, like me, who do decide to stay for the long haul, you get the benefit of experience in dealing with a variety of topics, and a wealth of knowledge regarding the constituency, the MP’s previous work and the constituents who become ‘regulars’.
When you look at the Parliamentary website and it explains the role of an MP, you are told that they are your representative in Parliament and can ask questions of the Government on matters affecting constituents. But the responsibilities of an MP go far beyond that these days. The hundreds of emails received each week from constituents cover potholes to major transport investment requests, train delays to parking tickets, GP appointments to hospital complaints and more. MPs have gone from being the ‘last point of call’ when a constituent has exhausted all other avenues to be the ‘first stop’ for a constituent looking for answers.
Dealing with such a wide range of issues, and knowing how to find answers, direct correspondence to the appropriate organisation or offer a sympathetic ear requires experience that is rarely valued by those responsible for setting staffing budgets. The maximum Caseworker salary for a London-based staff is £38,421 – it’s easy to see why staff may look for a career elsewhere after 2-3 years or be drawn more towards a policy/research-based role, which can command up to £50k per year.
The Parliamentary staff that stay with the job long-term are not there for the money, or the politics (those staffers usually move on in order to prepare for their own careers in elected politics), they usually continue because they enjoy the variety of the role and almost always because they enjoy helping people. But they deserve to far more supported than they currently are.
Who can staff turn to at the end of a difficult day of dealing with some incredibly sensitive and stressful situations? It is unrealistic to suggest an MP has time to debrief with their caseworkers regularly, when they themselves have other matters occupying their time. Who is looking after the well-being of staff members and ensuring they are not being personally affected by the issues they are assisting constituents with? Appropriate staff management is still a rarity in Parliamentary offices, beyond someone monitoring annual leave and overtime. Again, the limitations of the staff budget do not allow for appropriately qualified HR Managers to monitor staff wellbeing and offer appropriate support.
Over the years, I have dealt with my fair share of difficult cases. From a campaign group that threatened to inject me with blood from someone diagnosed with HIV, to a constituent that committed suicide after I was unable to assist him with his council tax debt. Those issues stay with you and it is only because I was lucky enough to have the assistance of an experienced Office Manager that I was able to ask for help when it became too difficult to deal with. But plenty of times have I, and other staff, handled matters well beyond what should be expected of us – particularly the abuse aimed at MPs during the Brexit discussions.
IPSA have this week announced extra funding available in the staffing budget for 2020/21, to be used specifically for “training, welfare and security”. It is absolutely right that MPs use this money to support their staff and hope that we can use it to retain and reward long serving, experienced Caseworkers.
Hive Support was created to improve working practices in MPs offices, and to better support Parliamentary staff. We understand how MP’s offices work, and what is required to help and support staff; a job that shouldn’t be added to the role of MP or other Parliamentary staff who may not have sufficient time or expertise to carry it out. Please use the extra money available from IPSA and invest it into the well-being of your staff. By using our service, we can help you oversee your staff’s welfare and development, for a fraction of the cost of an HR Manager.
Please contact us today to discuss our service further.