A union leader has argued that more intervention is needed to deal with serious issues faced by Parliament staff. 

Calls to a 24/7 helpline for staff in Parliament has risen by almost 10 per cent over the past year, sparking concerns for the wellbeing of workers.

The phone line, dubbed a “harrassment hotline”, was set up in mid 2014 as part of the Employee Assistance Programme for MPs’ staff.

Between 2019-2020, there had been at least 973 calls made to the helpline, with 934 calls from House of Commons staff and 39 from MPs’ employees.

However, between May 2020 and April 2021, this increased to a minimum of 1,073 calls – 979 of those from Commons staff and 94 from those who work for MPs.

The real number was predicted to be much higher as some calls were redacted whilst other figures did not count all parliamentary staff including House of Lords staff, peers or MPs.

Of the calls made over the last year, almost half (442) were linked to the mental health of staff. Just under a quarter (247) were related to legal problems whilst 116 calls were about work.

Jenny Symmons, chairwoman of GMB’s branch for MPs’ staff, said that “much more intervention” would be needed to address the “systemic issues with bullying and harassment, sexual misconduct, unhealthy work patterns, and other problems that have permeated our workplace for decades”.

Ms. Symmons added:

Parliament has made huge headway in supporting MPs’ staff pastorally. As more effort has been made to publicise the EAP during the pandemic, more staff have made use of it.

However, services offering mental health support are only treating the symptoms of cultural issues in Parliament – not the cause.

Jawad Raza, FDA union national officer, stressed the importance of the helpline to encourage workers in Parliament to raise their concerns and access help when necessary:

The Employee Assistance Programme and Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme helplines have been instrumental in allowing staff to seek advice on a number of workplace issues, including bullying and harassment, sexual misconduct, discrimination and health and well-being.

These services must be protected and further developed to give all staff confidence to access support when it’s needed, which will in turn lead to long-term improvements to the culture of the House of Commons.