The Constitution Unit


NEW REPORT: MPs' Staff, the Unsung Heroes: An Examination of Who They Are and What They Do

3 October 2023

A new Constitution Unit report examines the key role played by MPs' staff in our political system, shedding new light on who they are, and what they do.

The clock tower of big ben and the corner of Portcullis with a cloudy sky

A good deal is known about the 650 MPs who sit in the House of Commons, and they are frequently the focus of research. Far less is known about the over 3,500 people who work for them across their Westminster and constituency offices. Yet these people play a key role in our political system: serving as gatekeepers for MPs; providing them policy advice, research, and legislative support; engaging with constituents; and providing essential administrative assistance.

This new Unit report by Dr Rebecca McKee combines original analysis of existing available data with entirely new evidence from an original survey of MPs’ staff, alongside an exploration of the history of MPs’ staffing support and alternative models of staffing arrangements in other legislatures. This research provides new insights into who works for MPs, their roles and day-to-day activities, as well as their motivations, aspirations and experience in and of their jobs. It offers various reflections on areas for improvement in Westminster’s staffing arrangements.

Read the report

Some key findings include:

  • MPs’ staffing support has developed since 1969 without much strategic oversight, often in response to demands for more support from MPs
  • little evidence exists of a ‘typical’ MP’s office
  • there is significant variation among staff, in terms of age, gender, education, and experience
  • characteristics map on to different roles; staff at Westminster and in research roles are markedly younger and more male than those in constituency offices – around 70% of researchers are under 30
  • poor representation of experts in STEM subjects among MPs’ staff
  • a mixture of formal and informal recruitment to these roles, and an emphasis on prior experience in parliament which may perpetuate existing inequalities
  • a high staff turnover rate, with staff taking valuable institutional memory with them and an associated strain on both staff and MPs.

The report also considers some problems with the current staffing structures on this basis, including:

  • Boundaries between the three official job families – research, executive and administrative – are blurred, and staff report carrying out a range of activities beyond their intended remit.
  • MPs use the flexibility afforded to them, but a high workload and existing financial structures encourage the recruitment decisions that in turn result in the demographic and skills-based skew found in the report.
  • Few opportunities for staff career or pay progression likely contribute to high turnover. 

Rebecca McKee said:

“There are over 3,500 people working directly for MPs at any one time; these staff play a key role in our political system yet until now we have known very little about them. Without a rounded understanding of who these staff are and what they do it has been almost impossible for parliament to ensure the current arrangements serve both MPs and their staff well. Such data should inform any decision on reform, and this report provides such data, highlighting some important issues that parliament, MPs, and IPSA need to address.”

Director of the Constitution Unit, Meg Russell said:

“It is clearly crucial that our parliament, and individual MPs, are served by the best possible workforce – and that those staff themselves are well supported. This report sheds important light on who MPs’ staff are and what they do, drawing attention to various areas of concern. One key finding is that MPs’ staff working at Westminster (though not in constituency offices) are strikingly young and male and drawn from a narrow educational background. Both to best support today’s MPs, and because many such staff themselves aspire to be future MPs, attention is needed on the recruitment decisions and workplace structures that drive such patterns.”

Further reading:

The initial findings presented in the report have been written up in the below blogs by Dr Rebecca McKee:

This research was made possible by funding from the British Academy, through the award of a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship. The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect those of the British Academy.