Around one in seven MPs employ family members or spouses to assist with their work in Parliament, despite a ban on the practice for new hires in 2017
Some MPs employ family members or spouses - referred to as “connected parties” - who earn up to £55,000 per year to work as researchers, secretaries and office managers, in both part-time and full-time roles.
According to the MPs register of interests, 90 MPs currently declare that they employ a connected party, paid for out of their taxpayer-funded parliamentary expenses. Staffing costs tend to make up the bulk of the expenses, which MPs are allocated to fund their constituency and parliamentary activities.
What do MPs hire their family members to do?
The roles MPs employ family members to carry out vary, from assistant to senior researcher and office manager. Some earn much more than the national average for their roles.
The highest paid connected party in parliament is the wife of Conservative MP for Christchurch, Christopher Chope, who is employed full-time as a secretary, earning between £50,000 and £54,999 per annum, according to data from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA).
A slightly higher proportion of Conservative MPs (16 per cent) employ connected parties compared with Labour MPs (13 per cent), whereas half of the eight Democratic Unionist Party MPs employ connected parties, and just six per cent of Scottish National Party MPs.
The average wage for a connected party is between £35,000 and £39,999 on a full time basis.
Is the practice allowed?
MPs were allowed to employ family members, up until 2017, when the practice was banned for new hires.
Prior to 2010, there were no restrictions on the employment of MPs families, but changes to the rules in May 2010 meant MPs could only employ one connected party, and they had to be paid within the IPSA pay ranges.
In 2017, a review by IPSA noted that the practice “can be perceived as providing personal gain to MPs and their families at taxpayers’ expense” and agreed with the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which said it is “out of step with modern employment practice.”
The 2017 review resulted in a ban on MPs employing “connected parties” but this did not extend to those already employed. This means that any family members or spouses who were employed by an MP prior to the 2017 general election will be able to continue in their roles indefinitely.
However, no MPs elected in 2017 or later can employ members of their family or spouses, nor can MPs who were elected prior to that, beyond any staff who are already employed.
What’s the problem?
The 2017 IPSA report concluded that “the employment of connected parties is out of step with modern employment practice” primarily because it hampers “fair and open recruitment and management of staff.”
The report revealed that an MP’s staff member said the practice “does not help the perception of MPs staff as professionals” and quotes one unnamed MP as saying the practice was “unjust and encouraged nepotism.”
MPs arguing against a ban said that there is significant value in “having people close to them whom they can trust to support them” and that connected parties “represent good value for money” because they are willing to work “well beyond the hours that other staff would be prepared to work.”
IPSA did state in the 2017 review that the decision to ban MPs from employing connected parties was “not based on any identified abuse or mis-leading claim” and that they believe MPs who told them their family-member employees “regularly go ‘above and beyond’ in supporting MPs.”
Danielle Boxall, Media Campaign Manager at the TaxPayers Alliance, argued that MPs should be able to employ family members, so long as there’s transparency over pay.
She said, “MPs should remain free to employ family members, but only on the condition that they are subject to the highest levels of transparency about who is being paid, how much, and what for.
“Openness and transparency are vital to give the public confidence that the system is not being abused. Taxpayers would certainly be concerned if family members were better paid than MPs’ other staff.
“These salaries should be available for constituents to scrutinise so they can hold their MP to account and, if necessary, ask about the arrangements.”