Wellness Working Group

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The Wellness Working Group is a cross party group of MPs’ staff with the aim of placing a focus on staff welfare and improving support for MPs’ staff well-being. Support mechanisms have tended to focus almost exclusively on Members and House Staff, with MPs’ staff needs often being forgotten or left in the background. The uniqueness of working for an MP cannot be overstated. The Wellness Working Group is firmly of the belief that more needs to be done to recognise the often complex and challenging role of MPs’ staff and the unparalleled challenges they face. Many staff have already shared their experiences and we are keen to hear from as many MPs’ staff as possible, regardless of party colours since the challenges we face are some that only MPs’ staff will be fully able to relate to.

MPs’ staff are increasingly under pressure with intense workloads and are often dealing with very distressed and vulnerable constituents who bring issues that are harrowing and emotionally demanding. The cumulative effect of this type and volume of work can have impacts on our own mental health. This makes it crucial that we have measures in place to cope and be able to look after ourselves. It is only by looking after ourselves that we will be able to continue perform well and to help others. Staff are often overstretched, which in a crisis gets worse. Also, staff are often left with lots of distressing details and nowhere ‘to put’ them. This is not exclusive to caseworkers. Administrators are often the first point of contact in the office by answering the phone or filtering the inbox and researchers and parliamentary assistants can be involved in very harrowing topics for debates. Office managers are often in a difficult place between the Member and the staff team and many find themselves picking up any additional workload the team faces. In addition, they often feel responsible for their team’s well-being, which can be especially difficult given the harrowing nature of the work, whilst perhaps not having the same outlet or well-being support that they are providing to their teams. The Wellness Working Group believes more adequate support needs to be put in place for MPs’ staff well-being. Furthermore, training on mental health ought to be offered so that a greater focus is placed on self-care, allowing staff to be better equipped to cope with demanding and important work.

The increase in the number of campaigns and heated nature of politics means it is common for MPs’ staff to be put in the position of answering aggressive correspondence, directed to their Member as a public figure, and feeling the force of people’s anger. This extends to threats and abuse made to staff who have not signed up to be publicly accountable. So often staff are isolated, whether in small offices in Westminster or in constituency offices all around the country. Now with Covid-19 and home working, we are conscious that staff might feel even more disconnected and overwhelmed with the work they are facing. We understand many staff relied on their workplace for social interaction and support, which has been somewhat lost in many cases, also meaning boundaries between home and work are blurred.

We were pleased that IPSA added £4000 to the MPs’ staffing budget for well-being and training recently. We see this as a starting point in staff welfare being recognised as a concept and see that we have much further to go if staff welfare is to be properly considered. The Wellness Working Group has several aims, which include: developing a well-being policy, establishing peer support networks that could provide a space to share experiences, knowledge and expertise whilst creating more of a sense of community, the provision of better mental health training and having a ring-fenced budget from IPSA so that well-being costs do not have to come from already stretched budgets, to name a few.

We would encourage you to join our Group because it is by supporting one another that we can make a difference. What we have in common as staff is unique. Working for an MP is a job that is often hard to describe to those who have not experienced it. Members of the Group come from all parts of the UK and from all political parties. We understand that the challenges may differ but all are equally valid when people are struggling. So far we have held meetings in Scotland and in London, but we are now holding these meetings virtually. We are trying to avoid the focus being on people reaching crisis point and more on creating something that helps people to avoid that point, or recover quickly if they do.

If you would like to be involved or have any questions, then please feel free to get in touch: mpsstaff-wwg@parliament.uk

Health & Wellbeing

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Parliament has an excellent Health & Wellbeing service which can be accessed by Members’ Staff.

From their homepage, you can find details of the Employee Assistance Programme, run by Health Assured, which provides help for Members’ staff to deal with personal and professional issues, including:

  • Health and well-being information
  • Financial issues
  • General advice on employment law
  • Stress at home or work and relationship matters.

As part of the programme Health Assured run a free confidential helpline, which is available 24/7, and face-to-face counselling sessions can also be arranged where appropriate.  You can find the telephone number and details of how to access their online service here.


Six Top Tips for Mental Health & Wellbeing

Tips for Emotional Wellbeing while working from home

w4mp Guide to Working From Home

Other Useful Links


Six Top Tips for Mental Health & Wellbeing

Reframe unhelpful thoughts

  • Limit the amount of time you are spending looking at the news and stick to trusted news sources. Only check the news once or twice a day.
  • Seek opportunities to amplify positive stories.

Useful links: Gov Hub / Anxiety UK / Anxiety UK YouTube / CfCS Wellbeing Hub

Be in the present

  • Mindfulness and meditation can help you be in the present.
  • There are a number of free apps the NHS recommend to get started

Useful links: NHS Apps / Mind / NHS Breathing Video / NHS Mindfulness / Headspace

Get good sleep

  • Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule and ensure your bedroom creates optimal sleeping conditions, the room should be the right temperature between 15 to 22 degrees Celsius, free from noise and light.
  • Don’t nap during the day and limit exposure to bright light and screen usage in the hour before you intend to sleep.

Useful links: NHS / Mental Health Foundation / Every Mind Matters / CfCS Sleepstation

Connect with others

  • You should keep connected to your team, with regular contact through calls, skype and/or video hangouts, to see how they are. Regular check in times are key as is striking a balance between having a routine and making sure each day has some variety.
  • Be sure you have up to date contact information for vulnerable/older friends and relatives who may have to self isolate for longer periods.

Useful link: Mind Checklist

Live a healthy life

  • If you feel well enough you can take part in light exercise within your home or garden.
  • If you are not in a vulnerable group and not self isolating due to symptoms consider going for a quick walk but try to walk somewhere quiet and maintain 2m from others.

Useful links: NHS Fitness Studio / NHS 12 Week Fitness Plan / Fitness Blender

Do something for yourself

  • If you are going to be in your home for an extended period, it is important you plan breaks in your working day and organise activities you’re interested in at night.
  • Activities such as cooking, reading, online learning and watching films.

Useful links: Open University Free Courses / BBC Podcasts / BBC Good Food / A to Z of Wellbeing


Tips for Emotional Wellbeing while working from home

Working from home will mean different things to different people, and the impact of this move will vary depending on the type of work you normally do, whether this can be done easily from home or not and your personal situation.

Below are some ideas to help you look after your wellbeing over the coming weeks.

Routine
We all have our routines and when life changes happen these routines are disturbed and this can cause a sense of unease at a time when we crave stability. It is therefore important to keep as much day to day normality as possible while working from home.
Give some thought to how you can maintain your daily routines or supplement them in a positive way.
For example, stick you your normal wake up/ bed times, shower and dress each day and deliberately use the extra time (saved from travelling etc.) in a positive way; exercise at home, read a book, have a leisurely breakfast and so forth. Identify other routines you have and keep/ adapt them accordingly.

Take breaks.
As above it is important to stick to your normal work schedule as much as possible and breaks are as important at home as they are at work, perhaps even more so. It can be easy to get distracted when working at home and attention is a finite resource, taking regular short breaks allows the mind to rest and then re-focus on the task at hand. Lunch breaks are also important, don’t be tempted to grab a bite to eat and work through, consider using the time to eat healthily, spend time with other people in the household of get some fresh air if possible.

Set boundaries.
It is important to have clear boundaries for your workday, not just to ensure you meet expectations, but to ensure you do not overwork. Because you are on your own, you may be tempted to start earlier, finish later and not take your breaks, but this is counterproductive as you risk burning out – try to keep to your normal daily hours and routine.
Physical boundaries are also important, try to set up a dedicated workspace (even a corner of the kitchen or a different seat to normal) so you mentally enter and exit the “work zone”, this will help you focus on work when there, and let it go when you are not. It may be worth talking to other household members about your boundaries too, so you don’t get drawn into non-work conversations and situations when trying to work.

Acknowledge how you feel.
We are in the midst of a difficult, worrying time and so it is normal for us to feel different about life, to worry, to think about possible outcomes and to struggle with the uncertainty. On top of this, it is normal to feel a sense of concern about working from home, we may feel anxious or stressed as we worry about whether we appear busy enough, we may be overly concerned with trying to make ourselves available or proving how productive we are being. We may also feel a sense of guilt about not being in the office, not being able to complete certain tasks, and all these emotions can lead us to question our own worth. So be kind to yourself, allow space for these thoughts and feelings but try not to let them overwhelm you. it is important to remember that these are thoughts not facts and it is perfectly normal to experience them.

Practice Compassion and Gratitude.
This is already a testing time for many, and things may get worse, creating uncertainty and even fear. In these conditions it is normal for humans to focus on themselves, and this may lead to irritability, anger, frustration etc. towards others. By choosing compassion towards others (especially family members!!), trying to understand what other people are going through and how they feel, and practicing gratitude for what we have (rather than focussing on what we do not have or have lost) we can maintain good relations with those around us and create a much better environment for us all to live and work in.

Humans are social animals.

Remember humans have evolved to live and work in groups, and so any kind of isolation places an extra burden on us. Being isolated from work colleagues that we normally spend a large amount of time with can impact on how we feel, so make a concerted effort to stay in touch, and not just about work related issues.
Also make a point of reaching out to your social circles, friends, family, groups etc. and maintain those links that we all need for our wellbeing. It is also a good idea to keep in touch with those people who may be vulnerable at this time, encourage them to look after themselves and offer help where possible.

Look after your Psychological needs.
We have all heard stories about people bulk buying food and provisions to ensure their physical needs are met, but what about your emotional/ psychological needs? We all have psychological needs (such as the need for recognition, significance, achievement, connection to others and growth) and work plays a large part for most people in getting those needs met.
While working at home it is important to recognise that these still need to be met, but the mechanisms that previously supported us are temporarily unavailable. Therefore be kind to yourself, you may feel worried or alone, you may feel like you are not as “good” as normal or achieving as much as normal, and that is OK. Take time to focus on what you have achieved, learn to congratulate yourself, acknowledge any negative thoughts or feelings you may have but remind yourself these are difficult times and that you are only human.

Look after your mental health
The change to routines, the pressure of appearing busy, being productive, being isolated, losing connections and feeling guilty/ anxious may impact on our mental health, and anyone who has an existing mental health condition may find it is impacted.
It is important to plan ahead for our mental health, figure out what supports our mental health, who we can talk to, what help is available locally and nationally and what to do if we feel in crisis.

Resources and contacts
Below are some resources we can all access to help support us through the next few weeks:
Your line manager can help with work issues but may also be able to offer support on other topics.

Parliamentary Health and Wellbeing Service – although PHWS will also be subject to any restrictions in Parliament, they will still be answering emails and can be contacted regarding wellbeing issues.
Heath Assured – our Employee Assistance Provider can be contacted on 0800 030 5182 and https://intranet.parliament.uk/employment/health-and-wellbeing/employee-assistance-programme-eap—health-assured/

NHS – Please follow the most recent advice regarding contacting the NHS, however the NHS website is accessible to everyone at any time https://www.nhs.uk/ and contains a wide range of useful information and links to other resources.

Samaritanshttps://www.samaritans.org/ phone 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org to have a confidential conversation with someone about anything that concerns you


Other Useful Links

Your Mind Plan (NHS): https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/your-mind-plan-quiz/

MIND: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus/coronavirus-and-your-wellbeing/

Anxiety UK: https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/coronanxiety-support-resources/

Coronavirus – useful links

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This page is intended to be a list of links to useful sources of information about Coronavirus, how to help your constituents and how to work remotely.

House of Commons Information

An update from the Cabinet Office for Members (2 June 2020): https://intranet.parliament.uk/business-news/news-current-issues/news/2020/march/an-update-from-the-cabinet-office-for-members/

Cleanliness and hygiene measures on the Estate

Coronavirus Hub

Data protection guidance

Digital guidance (scroll down page)

FAQs for Members

HSE Working Safely guidance and support

IPSA guidance

Member briefing pack

Returning to work guidance (opens in ACT)

Risk assessment (office)

Risk assessment (individual)

Situation in the UK

Template signage

Test and Trace

Wellbeing advice and guidance

Working from home advice (W4MP)

Casework

Data Protection and Coronavirus

House of Commons Library: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/coronavirus/

Immigration and Borders: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-immigration-and-borders

Working Remotely

Log into Office 365 with your Parliamentary credentials for access to all of your usual apps: https://portal.office.com/

Learn how to use Skype for Business for online meetings – factsheet and video

Health and Wellbeing

Your Mind Plan (NHS): https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/your-mind-plan-quiz/

MIND: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus/coronavirus-and-your-wellbeing

Anxiety UK: https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/coronanxiety-support-resources/

Glide: https://glidegroup.co.uk/remote-working-a-practical-safety-guide-for-businesses#mental

Tax Debt and Mental Healthhttps://www.riftrefunds.co.uk/tax-rebates/uk-tax-refund-advice/tax-debt-and-mental-health/

Information for the Public

Government Advice for the Public

Coronavirus information homepage: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

Time off for Family and Dependants – https://www.gov.uk/time-off-for-dependants

Children’s Commissioner – Coronavirus, children and you.  Advice, information, suggestions, answers and resources to help during the pandemic: https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/coronavirus/

Coronavirus Crisis: Guidance on Compliance with Family Court Child Arrangement Orders: https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/coronavirus-crisis-guidance-on-compliance-with-family-court-child-arrangement-orders/

Employment Issues

ACAS employment advice: Helpline 0300 123 1100 / https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus

Coronavirus support for employees, benefit claimants and businesses: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/coronavirus-support-for-employees-benefit-claimants-and-businesses

Health & Safety Executive: https://www.hse.gov.uk/news/coronavirus.htm

Support for businesses: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-support-for-businesses

Lay-offs and short-time working: https://www.gov.uk/lay-offs-short-timeworking

Unite the Union: https://unitetheunion.org/campaigns/coronavirus-covid-19-advice/

If Unite members need advice on a COVID-19 related employment law query that is not covered by the information above and your workplace rep is not available, you can call Unite’s dedicated COVID-19 Legal Advice Line on 0333 202 6557.

If members need advice on a COVID-19 related benefits query, information is available from the DWP online here and Unite have set up a dedicated benefits advice line which members can access by calling 0333 202 6563

Unite has launched a helpline and volunteer care service for its vulnerable members during the coronavirus crisis.

All UK-based Unite members can call the helpline number 0330 1072351. The helpline is fully staffed between 08:00 until 19:00 Monday to Friday with an overflow service at other hours. A Unite volunteer will then be assigned to assist anyone who needs help with picking up shopping, posting mail, collecting urgent supplies, such as prescriptions, or simply talking to those who are experiencing loneliness.

Businesses

Coronavirus Business Advice – including business closures, stay at home FAQs, self-employment income support scheme, and more: https://www.businesssupport.gov.uk/coronavirus-business-advice/

Claim for wage costs through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – a guide for employers.  includes information relating to people on zero hours contracts: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-for-wage-costs-through-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme

Competitions and Markets Authority – report concerns about business practices, including shops raising prices: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/cma-covid-19-response

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme: https://www.businesssupport.gov.uk/coronavirus-business-interruption-loan-scheme/

Coronavirus Financial Support: https://www.businesssupport.gov.uk/coronavirus-business-support/

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme: https://www.businesssupport.gov.uk/coronavirus-job-retention-scheme/

Federation of Small Businesses: https://www.fsb.org.uk/campaign/covid19.html

HMRC Tax helpline to support businesses affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) – news article: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/tax-helpline-to-support-businesses-affected-by-coronavirus-covid-19 leads to helpline: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-revenue-customs/contact/coronavirus-covid-19-helpline

Information on support for self-employed individuals: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/chancellor-gives-support-to-millions-of-self-employed-individuals

Information Commissioner: https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/data-protection-and-coronavirus/

Coronavirus: what IPSE (Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed) is doing and advice for freelancers and the self-employed: https://www.ipse.co.uk/ipse-news/news-listing/coronavirus-ipse-activity-and-advice-freelancers.html and IPSA Coronavirus hub: https://www.ipse.co.uk/coronavirus-hub.html

Royal Mail: https://www.royalmail.com/coronavirus?iid=HP_M2_2_CORONAVIRUS

Sage – financial advice for small and medium businesses:- https://www.sage.com/en-gb/coronavirus/

Save a Small Business (Greater Manchester only): https://sasb.today/

TUC: https://www.tuc.org.uk/resource/covid-19-coronavirus-guidance-unions

Benefits

Entitledto – What help is available from benefits if you are affected by coronavirus: https://www.entitledto.co.uk/help/Coronavirus_help

Turn2Us – Benefits and Coronavirus: https://www.turn2us.org.uk/get-support/Benefits-and-Coronavirus-new

Disability Benefits: Claimants on disability benefits will no longer be required to attend face-to-face assessments. The change also covers health checks for Universal Credit.: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/face-to-face-health-assessments-for-benefits-suspended-amid-coronavirus-outbreak

Employment & Support Allowance: https://www.gov.uk/employment-support-allowance

Information on Universal Credit: https://www.understandinguniversalcredit.gov.uk/coronavirus/

To claim Universal Credit: https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit

Education and Childcare

Guidance for schools, childcare providers, colleges and local authorities in England on maintaining educational provision: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-maintaining-educational-provision/guidance-for-schools-colleges-and-local-authorities-on-maintaining-educational-provision

Coronavirus (COVID-19): early years and childcare closures: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-early-years-and-childcare-closures

The Open University: Coronavirus – the lowdown – https://www.open.edu/openlearn/health-sports-psychology/public-health/what-coronavirus

Health & Wellbeing

Get coronavirus support as an extremely vulnerable person: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus-extremely-vulnerable

NHS advice: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

Age UK: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/conditions-illnesses/coronavirus/

Asthma UK: https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/triggers/coronavirus-covid-19/

Autistica: https://www.autistica.org.uk/what-is-autism/coronavirus

Cancer Research: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-in-general/coronavirus-and-cancer and https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/one_cancer_voice_advice_on_coronavirus_for_people_with_cancer.pdf

Childline: 0800 1111 – https://www.childline.org.uk/

Children’s Commissioner: https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/coronavirus/

Citizens’ Advice: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/health/coronavirus-what-it-means-for-you/

Diabetes UK: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/about_us/news/coronavirus

Guide on Handling Coughs and Colds in the Elderly: https://www.covonia.co.uk/coughs-colds-elderly-guide/

MIND ‘Coronavirus and your wellbeing’: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/coronavirus-and-your-wellbeing/ and Coronavirus: supporting yourself and your team: https://www.mind.org.uk/workplace/mental-health-at-work/coronavirus-supporting-yourself-and-your-team/

Hardship Funds

Coronavirus hardship fund for musicians: https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/news/latest-news/help-musicians-launches-5m-coronavirus-financial-hardship-fu

Travel and Transport Advice

Foreign Office Travel Advice: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice

Money Saving Expert:

Coronavirus Financial Help & Rights – Sick pay, mortgages, rental help, train refunds, energy top-ups & more: https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/news/2020/03/uk-coronavirus-help-and-your-rights/

Coronavirus Travel Rights – Holiday refunds, travel insurance cover and more: https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/news/2020/02/coronavirus-travel-help-and-your-rights/

Travel advice: coronavirus (COVID-19) – Guidance for British people travelling overseas during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/travel-advice-novel-coronavirus

MOT Tests: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-mots-for-cars-vans-and-motorcycles-due-from-30-march-2020

The AA: https://www.theaa.com/about-us/coronavirus-covid-19

Arriva Buses: https://www.arrivabus.co.uk/coronavirus/

Diamond Buses: https://www.diamondbuses.com/news/dbnw-coronavirus-timetable-changes/

Network Rail: https://www.networkrail.co.uk/coronavirus

Northern Rail: https://media.northernrailway.co.uk/news/coronavirus-travel-information

Stagecoach: https://www.stagecoachbus.com/coronavirus

Transport for Greater Manchester: https://tfgm.com/coronavirus

Energy and Utilities

British Gas: https://www.britishgas.co.uk/covid19

Ebico: https://ebico.org.uk/ebico-news/coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak-announcement/

E.on: https://www.eonenergy.com/coronavirus-update.html

O2: https://www.o2.co.uk/covid-19

Ofgem – Coronavirus (COVID-19) and your energy supply: Coronavirus (COVID-19) and your energy supply

Helping the energy industry protect customers during coronavirus

Scottish Power: https://www.scottishpower.com/news/pages/covid_19_update.aspx

Shell Energy: https://www.shellenergy.co.uk/service

Three Mobile: http://www.three.co.uk/stay-connected

United Utilities: https://www.unitedutilities.com/Coronavirus-update/

Vodafone: https://www.vodafone.co.uk/mobile/coronavirus-advice

Supermarkets

Aldi: https://www.aldi.co.uk/covid19

Asda: https://corporate.asda.com/20200309/steps-we-have-taken-in-response-to-the-coronavirus-outbreak

Booths: https://www.booths.co.uk/coronavirus-covid-19-statement/

Iceland: https://www.iceland.co.uk/customer-support/help-articles#coronavirus

Lidl: https://www.lidl.com/coronavirus-update

Morrisons: https://groceries.morrisons.com/content/important-update-on-coronavirus-94110

Sainsburys: https://www.about.sainsburys.co.uk/news/latest-news/2020/feeding-the-nation-5

Tesco: https://www.tescoplc.com/news/2020/covid-19-a-message-to-our-customers-from-dave-lewis-tesco-ceo/

Waitrose: https://www.waitrose.com/ecom/help-information/customer-service/coronavirus

Community Support

Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK – “a group of volunteers supporting local community groups organising mutual aid throughout the Covid-19 outbreak in the UK. We focus on providing resources and connecting people to their nearest local groups, willing volunteers and those in need.” – https://covidmutualaid.org/

Home Owners, Landlords and Renters

HomeOwners Alliance – Buying and selling a home during the coronavirus lockdown? https://hoa.org.uk/2020/03/buying-home-coronavirus/

Residential Landlords Association – what landlords need to know: https://www.rla.org.uk/campaigns/coronavirus/index.shtml

Complete ban on evictions and additional protection for renters: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/complete-ban-on-evictions-and-additional-protection-for-renters

Banks, Building Societies and Money

Bank of Scotland: https://www.bankofscotland.co.uk/helpcentre/coronavirus.html

Barclays: https://www.barclays.co.uk/coronavirus/

Bradford and Bingley: https://www.bbg.co.uk/personal-support

Co-op Bank: https://www.co-operativebank.co.uk/news/2020/coronavirus-support-personal-customers

Help Musicians Coronavirus Hardship Fund: https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/news/latest-news/help-musicians-launches-5m-coronavirus-financial-hardship-fu

HSBC: https://www.hsbc.co.uk/help/coronavirus/

Lloyds: https://www.lloydsbank.com/help-guidance/coronavirus.html

Money Advice Service: https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en

More Than Insurance: https://www.morethan.com/coronavirus/

Natwest: https://personal.natwest.com/personal/support-centre/coronavirus.html Telephone: 0800 051 4176

PayPal: https://www.paypal.com/uk/smarthelp/article/paypal%E2%80%99s-response-to-the-coronavirus-(covid-19)-pandemic-&-faqs-faq4003?Z3JncnB0=

Royal Bank of Scotland: https://personal.rbs.co.uk/personal/support-centre/coronavirus.html

Santander: https://www.santander.co.uk/personal/coronavirus?icid=php-Hero-Coronavirus-0320

TSB: https://www.tsb.co.uk/coronavirus/

Which?: https://www.which.co.uk/news/coronavirus/

Other Useful Links

RSPCA: https://www.rspca.org.uk/coronavirus

MP and Staffers’ guide to Mental Health

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The MP and Staffers’ Guide to Mental Health has been updated and is full of useful information on how to support and signpost constituents with mental health needs.  We highly recommend that you read this guide.

Here’s what’s in it:

  • Quick-reference guide
  • An overview of mental health
  • How much help should you give?
  • How to help someone in distress
  • Handling difficult emails and phone calls
  • Signposting and local information
  • Glossary

You can view it on the Rethink Mental Illness website here.

As an aside from those of us at W4MP who have been around for a bit: if you are new to the job you might just be thinking that you are the only one who has ever had to help constituents with mental health problems.  Everyone who has ever worked for an MP, and particularly those based in constituency offices and dealing with casework, tends to be surprised how much of an issue this can be, particularly in your first few weeks.  Hopefully this booklet will help you put things in perspective.  Good luck!

The leaflet is a joint production by:

MPs’ Guide to the NHS 2019

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The NHS in England is made up of, and supported by, a number of different kinds of organisations at local and national level.  They have produced a very useful guide to who does what and how NHS services are funded, delivered and regulated for your constituents.

If you are an MP or a member of an MP’s staff and would like a copy of the guide, please let us know by emailing editor@w4mp.org

Please note that this guide is not available to members of the public.

Sign up for Care Quality Commission Alerts

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The Care Quality Commission is the independent regulator of health and social care in England.

If you want to stay up to date with the latest health and social care inspections in your constituency, then sign up for their email alerts, and they will send you an email once a week with the details of their activity in your area, including:

  • services they have started inspecting
  • new inspection reports they’ve published.
  • Where they’ve published a new report, you’ll be able to click on a link in the email to read it straightaway.

Sign up here: http://www.cqc.org.uk/cqc-subscriptions/subscribe/english-constituency

Setting Up the Office

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Setting up the Office

2.1  Choosing the right office(s)
2.2  Furniture, Equipment and Stationery
2.3  Computers
2.4  Email
2.5  Data Registration
2.6  Confidentiality
2.7  Involving Volunteers, Work Experience Students, Interns
2.8  Registering Interests
2.9  Health and Safety Policy for constituency offices
2.10 Dealing with post and deliveries


2.1 Choosing the right office(s)

The tasks performed by MPs’ staff include: research, providing briefings; drafting speeches and articles; casework, including handling letters, emails and calls; press and political work; diary and engagements; and keeping accounts.  Alright, so you do 101 other things as well, but the functions listed above, and who does them, will have a strong bearing on where any MP decides to locate his/her staff.

The choice is clearly between basing the office in Westminster or in the constituency – or a mixture of the two – and there are examples of every permutation.  Given the flexible tools of information technology, there are many tasks which could as well be done up a mountain as at Westminster, but the overriding considerations will be convenience and accessibility.  For example, having access to all the resources at Westminster and also having a visible presence in the constituency.

Here are some questions MPs will wish to answer before choosing the location(s) of their office(s):

  • Do you want constituents to have walk-in access to your staff?  (NB: please consider the security of you and your staff – see our brief comments on security in Section 3.9 on Advice Surgeries in our Everyday Tasks Guide)
  • Do you want to locate your staff in the office of your local constituency party?
  • Do you want to share with a neighbouring MP?
  • Is it most convenient to have a researcher at Westminster?  What happens to this role during parliamentary recesses?
  • Can all press contacts be adequately handled in the constituency?
  • Where is the most efficient place to locate your diary-keeper?
  • Is it possible to handle casework satisfactorily at Westminster?

In your office on the Parliamentary estate at Westminster, phone calls, rent, furniture, cleaning, photocopying costs are not charged to your Office Costs Budget; but you will have to pay for them all (and more) in your constituency office.

New MPs are entitled to a start-up budget, to enable them, amongst other things, to set up a constituency office.

Before you can claim any costs associated with your constituency office, including rent, you must register that property with IPSA.  Further details can be found in the ‘Guidance for MPs’ Business Costs and Expenses’, the latest version of which can be found on the IPSA website.

2.2 Furniture and Equipment and Stationery

At Westminster, standard furniture is provided at no cost.  In the constituency, however, you will have to buy it, although you can use the start-up budget for this.

The biggest items of expense will probably be those unlovely objects, filing cabinets.  Filing is dealt with in more detail further on, but do try to resist the temptation to provide a home for every single scrap of paper that enters your office on the grounds that it-might-come-in-useful-one-day.  With most information available online now, the ability to scan documents, and the wonderful backup from the Commons Library, you can confidently consign 99% of all that bumph to your paper recycling box.  So buy as few good quality filing cabinets as possible and consider looking for bargains in second-hand furniture warehouses.

Desks, chairs, lamps, phones, filing trays, shelving, and all the other bits and pieces you will need can also be found in second-hand places but it’s worth comparing prices with those in the House of Commons preferred stationery supplier’s catalogue which you should have already, or can be found online here: http://www.bbanner.co.uk/  Your Member should have been sent login details already.  If not, please give their helpdesk a call.  Most items are delivered next-day.

If you need any workplace adjustments, please see this guide: http://www.w4mp.org/w4mp/w4mp-guides/workplace-adjustments/

USE OF HOUSE STATIONERY AND POST PAID ENVELOPES (Serjeant at Arms)

Please see here for the current rules on the use of House stationery and post-paid envelopes.

2.3 Computers

Each Member is entitled to loan computers, laptops, mobile devices and printers from Parliament.  The catalogue can be found on the intranet, or you can ask for advice by ringing the Parliamentary Digital Service helpdesk on x2001.

The Parliamentary Digital Service will also arrange for a free broadband installation at the constituency office and you can find more information about that here.

Please note that computers supplied by Parliament are only accessible by people who have security clearance.  Without it, you cannot even log onto a machine.  Therefore, it is very important that new staff apply for their security clearance as soon as possible, in order to avoid delays in getting network access.

Don’t forget to purchase a television licence for your constituency office.  Even if you don’t have a television in your constituency office, you will still need a licence if you watch live TV on your computer or any mobile devices, or download any programmes from BBC iPlayer.  You can find further information here: https://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/check-if-you-need-one and purchase a licence here: https://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/cs/pay-for-your-tv-licence/index.app  You can pay for it on your IPSA card.  You do not need to purchase a television licence for your Westminster office as this is covered by the House authorities.

2.4 Email

The vast majority of MPs’ correspondence comes in by email, and you may be surprised at just how many emails arrive every day – it can often be in the hundreds, so it is important that you agree with your Member how you are going to deal with them.  Some MPs give their staff ‘delegated access’ to their inboxes, which allows staff to monitor and respond to emails on their behalf.  Some MPs have two mailboxes, one of which is accessible by their staff, and one which remains private.  Having a second mailbox can be very useful, for example, if you want to use one specifically for casework.  It is very easy to drag and drop emails between the two mailboxes, if required.

Many Government departments and agencies also have special MP ‘hotline’ email addresses, which are extremely useful.  There is a list of hotlines on the Parliamentary intranet.

2.5 Data Protection Registration

Under the requirements of the Data Protection Act 2018, all MPs’ offices must register with the Information Commissioner.  It is quite a straightforward process and the people who deal with enquiries at the Information Commissioner’s office are very helpful.  Members of Parliament are exempt from paying a registration fee, unless they have CCTV such as a video-entry doorbell which records the images, in which case the £40 fee applies.  You can ring their Information Line on 0303 123 1113 (local rate) or  01625 545 745 (national rate).

You can register online or email them for further information.  Their postal address is Information Commissioner, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire  SK9 5AF.   Further information can be found on the Information Commissioner’s website at: https://ico.org.uk/ and there is specific guidance for Constituency casework of Members of Parliament and the processing of sensitive personal data.

Importantly, the ICO’s guidance includes information on whether or not the constituent’s consent is required for them to act.  It says:

“For non-sensitive personal data, Members can usually rely on the implied consent of the constituent as providing the necessary condition.

For sensitive personal data, members can usually rely on the The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data)(Elected Representatives) Order 2002, which also covers the disclosure of such data by organisations responding to Members.”

You can find further guidances on Data Protection on the intranet: https://intranet.parliament.uk/information-management/data-protection-security/data-protection/

There is an excellent House of Commons Library briefing paper on Data Protection and Constituency Casework  which looks at the General Data Protection Regulation, the Data Protection Act 2018, and when MPs can process personal information.

2.6 Confidentiality

Working for an MP involves daily access to confidential information, both political and private.  It should be treated as such and protected from unauthorised disclosure.  Your constituents expect you to deal sensitively and appropriately with any personal information they give you.  Being given confidential information about a constituent can sometimes put you in a tricky situation.  Let’s look at three examples.

A constituent has asked you to contact the Home Office to speed up an application for his wife to join him in this country.  After interminable and inexplicable delays, an Immigration Officer reveals to you over the phone that the reason for the delay is that the wife is being investigated for deception.  This will involve an investigative trip to a remote part of her home country and there will be further delays; he asks you not to reveal this to your constituent.  Meanwhile, your constituent is ringing you three times a week to check progress.

Another example: your MP has written to Social Services on behalf of constituents who say they are being unfairly prevented from having reasonable access to their children who are in a foster home at present.  You receive two replies: one repeating the line that there is an agreement, made in court, that access is only allowed in tightly supervised conditions.  The other reply, marked “Confidential”, informs you that the children have made allegations of sexual abuse against one of their parents, which are currently being investigated.

A third example: you receive an anonymous email (so you can reply to it but you have no idea of the name or postal address of the sender) claiming that a named person is defrauding the Benefits Agency and asking you to pass on this information.

You need to discuss with your MP how you deal with these situations.  It is also important that, despite the pressures on your time, you read all letters from constituents and replies from agencies carefully before forwarding them.  Sometimes you will get what appears to be a very forthright or stark response for forwarding to a constituent.  Don’t underestimate the value of your role in achieving clarity (light but not sweetness, perhaps) for constituents; the unvarnished truth can sometimes help them to move on.

Only in exceptional circumstances should you pursue an issue for a constituent if it has been brought to your attention by someone else: a neighbour or a relative, for example.  Always get the permission (preferably in writing) of the person whose problem you are being asked to help resolve.  Here’s an example of a permission form.

Permission Form

NAME [Please print]________________________________________________________

National Insurance No: _____________________________________________________

ADDRESS _________________________________________________________________

I have instructed my Member of Parliament [NAME] to act on my behalf in this matter and would be grateful if any correspondence or documents could be sent to the address of my MP.
I confirm that I have given my MP permission to pursue these matters and to use all information I have provided, whether written or spoken, and including sensitive personal information.
I understand that this will be done in line with the requirements of the Data Protection Act 2018.

SIGNED___________________________________________________________________

DATE_____________________________________________________________________

2.7 Involving Volunteers, Work Experience Students and Interns

Given that anyone wishing to use a computer must have security clearance, this means that any short-term volunteers or work experience students must not be allowed to use them.  You need to consider this requirement when agreeing to any such positions, and you should never share log in details.  Additionally, anyone who will be working on the Parliamentary Estate must get a Parliamentary pass, even if they’ll only be there for a day or two.   Most pass applications are processed in 5 working days, so get the application in as early as you can, but a few weeks in advance should be fine.

There may be problems about the use of volunteers in any office where paid staff are working, but most of us reckon that, despite some of the drawbacks, there’s a net gain from involving volunteers in our work.

For information on the logistics of having for work experience students in your office, have a look at this guidance note.  It includes information on security and health and safety.  You can also read the information on safeguarding.  You may also find w4mp’s guide to Organising Work Experience in an MP’s Office useful.

There are a host of jobs which suit the skills and time availability of volunteers. Bear in mind a few principles and the arrangement can be mutually beneficial.

  • Manageable Tasks. Most volunteers come in for just a few hours a week so you need to give them manageable tasks which can be completed in that time.  Although some jobs – like culling the archived case files – are endless, make sure that volunteers don’t bite off more than they can chew and leave stacks of un-shredded papers lying around when they go.  You don’t want to have to finish the job when they’ve gone home.
  • Check Reliability. Say, for example you have given your volunteer the job of opening and sorting the post.  As you well know, it’s not just a simple job of opening envelopes and stamping the date received on it.  Sheets need to be fastened together, replies must be linked to existing files, invitations checked against the diary, Order Papers checked for PQs tabled by your MP, stacks of unwanted bumph separated from letters you must answer, etc.  That’s a skill it takes time to develop so it will pay you to tell them how you want it done and check it has been done correctly.  Otherwise, their work will be a drain on your time rather than a bonus.

Make sure volunteers know that their time is valued and that you expect to rely on them being there when they said they would.

  • Silence Please!  Make it clear, right from the start, that there’s work to be done and you don’t have time to sit and chat.  OK, be kind to yourself (and them) and do the chatting during a tea break!
  • What’s in it for the Volunteer?  Well, plenty actually.  A sense of involvement, achievement or helping out; perhaps some experience to be included on their CV (so get them to keep a running list of the tasks they undertake in case you need to write a reference later); and, hopefully, some genuine appreciation from you!
  • Confidentiality Agreement.  However well known the volunteer may be to you, he or she should sign a confidentiality agreement before starting work in your office.  It’s not just about guarding Party strategy.  You will inevitably handle very sensitive material about constituents from time to time and anyone working in the office will fall under the provisions of Data Protection Act 2018.  Here’s an example of a confidentiality agreement which you can use or adapt for your own office.  Let us know if you have an alternative agreement: use the Feedback Form.

Confidentiality Agreement

To be signed by all staff, volunteers, interns, secondees etc.

  1. Work undertaken in the office of _____________ MP involves access to information which is confidential. It should be treated as such and protected from unauthorised disclosure. It is an express condition of your relationship with ________________ MP that you should not divulge to any person outside the office of the MP any confidential information or aid the outward transmission of any such information or data.
  2. This undertaking continues after you cease to work for the MP.
  3. This undertaking applies to all material, including constituents’ casework, research, party political material, statistics, data, reports, etc.
  4. In the case of constituency casework, where it is necessary to relay information, letters, records of telephone conversations etc to third parties, this will always be done only in accordance with the interests of the constituent.

I have read this agreement and I understand and accept the above.

NAME _________________________________________________________

SIGNED  _______________________________________________________

WITNESS * _____________________________________________________

DATE __________________________________________________________

* line manager

Internships:  click here for all you need to know about a) becoming an Intern, and b) finding and looking after an Intern.

2.8 Registering Interests

When you first apply for a parliamentary pass, renew your pass, or change your sponsor you will be given a registration form to complete by the Pass Office.  A Resolution of the House requires that you register:
(1)  any relevant paid employment you are engaged in outside Parliament, and
(2)  gifts or other benefits which relate to your work in Parliament.

The Pass Office forwards the form to the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, where your details are added to the Register of Interests of Members’ Secretaries and Research Assistants.  You will be sent a copy of your entry then and whenever the entry is subsequently amended.  The Register is available for public inspection and is on the internet.  Members’ staff who are not issued with a parliamentary pass are not included on the Register, so if you have security clearance for access to the Parliamentary Network only, then you do not need to register.

Members’ staff may also be asked to assist their sponsoring Member in completing and maintaining his or her correct and up-to-date entry in the Register of Members’ Interests.  The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and Registrar of Members’ Interests are available to offer advice to Members and their staff on any aspect of registering and declaring interests.

The relevant telephone numbers are as follows:

Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards: 020 7219 0320
(Personal Assistant): 020 7219 0311
Registrar of Members’ Interests: 020 7219 3277
Assistant Registrar (for Members’ staff): 020 7219 0401

2.9 Health and Safety policy for constituency offices

There is an intranet page dedicated to Safety at Parliament, which may not be directly relevant to constituency offices but still contains some useful information.  There is also a page dedicated to Health and Wellbeing.

 2.10 Dealing with post and deliveries

Courier deliveries (e.g. Amazon, ASOS etc) cannot be made directly to the Parliamentary Estate, nor must passholders meet deliveries outside the Estate and then bring them in.  Deliveries present a huge security risk and these rules must be adhered to at all times.  If you must have items delivered to Parliament, please read the guidance here.