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MPs’ Staff: a study of the “unsung heroes” of parliament

This project examined the staff who work for MPs. Introducing original data from a survey of MPs’ staff this project sheds new light on who these staff are and what they do.

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The work of parliament is made possible by over 3,500 MPs’ staff who carry out and support many of the roles that the public associate with MPs, both at Westminster itself and in constituency offices across the UK. These “unsung heroes”, as former Speaker John Bercow called them, undertake a wide variety of roles as part of their work. MPs’ staff play a central part in the functioning of our democracy, yet surprisingly little is known about them.  

MPs’ staff act as a gatekeeper – monitoring the MP’s email inbox, responding to members of the public, the media, and lobby groups, and meeting with constituents. Staff can also serve as advisers – keeping up to date with recent debates and legislation, as well as relevant local, national, and international news before briefing their MP. Some staff have a crucial role to play in curating and maintaining the MP’s public image – drafting speeches and writing copy for press releases, the MP's website and Twitter. Others act as office managers, chiefs of staff and fulfil a wide range of administrative roles. Some staff may stay in their roles long-term, while others move on to pursue various other careers – in politics and beyond. 

Given the unique nature of these jobs and their close proximity to the heart of our democracy, the Constitution Unit has run a project looking at MPs’ staff: who they are, what they do, and how they can best be supported in their role. The data collected by the project greatly enhances knowledge and understanding of the functioning of parliament, parliamentary capacity, and the opportunities that may arise for those working for an MP. 

Read the report

Key research themes 

  1. Equality and fairness: who works for MPs and how demographically representative is this workforce ? How do different demographic characteristics and backgrounds map on to the different job roles?  How are staff recruited and what role do internships play in the process?
  2. Parliamentary capacity:  MPs are free to divide staff between Westminster and constituencies, and between different roles – but what choices do they make? What skills, qualifications and experience do staff working for MPs have and what is the distribution of roles and skill mix among staff in Westminster and constituency offices? How diverse is that experience, and how is it distributed?
  3. Employment model and experiences: how does MPs’ staffing work? How has it developed? What are the advantages and disadvantages of existing practices? What opportunities exist for career progression, and how long do staff serve in the job? What do those departing (seek to) go on to do? 

Research 

The research was conducted through a variety of methods. The largest part of this project was a survey of MPs’ staff that ran from summer – autumn 2019. The survey had of four sections, with questions covering the following themes: demographics and background characteristics; political and work experience; current job and day-to-day activities; employment practices and parliamentary services. In total, 520 responses were received (some only partial, as respondents did not have to answer every question). Of these, 472 responses were completed online and 48 on paper. Based on information from IPSA at the time the survey was conducted, there were 3,312 staff working for an MP.3 The 520 responses therefore correspond to a response rate of 15.7%.

Where there are gaps in the data, or more complete information is available elsewhere, insights have been included from other sources such as information on IPSA expenses, Freedom of Information (FoI) requests, desk-based research reviewing previous studies, academic literature, and reports on staff and on policies relating to staffing. Other insights were obtained from meetings with staff from IPSA, the House of Commons and former and current MPs’ staff, as well as some time spent shadowing staff in MPs’ offices

Project information 

This project is run by Dr Rebecca McKee a Research Fellow at the Constitution Unit, alongside Professor Meg Russell

Project Dates: Oct 2018 - Oct 2022

Funder: The British Academy 

Scheme: British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship 

Contact: constitution@ucl.ac.uk