The argument for MP Job Sharing
This guest blog entry was by Rachel Ling. She likes passionate debate, solving problems, coloured tights and making people smile. She can be contacted on Twitter, Facebook, or by Email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Views expressed in this post are those of the author only.
We’ve got votes for women and made the voting age fair: the next step for Democracy is job-sharing for MPs
Last year, at a career crossroad in my life, I used the telephone service of the National Careers Service. During this conversation the series of questions lead me to identify that the best use of my skills, knowledge and experiences was as a Member of Parliament.
At the time I dismissed the idea: I could not be an MP as the primary carer to my child. Being an MP requires nights away from home each week and, when undertaken wholly, is a very demanding job involving extraordinarily long hours. The Hansard Society’s survey of new Members of Parliament shows that within 6 months in post, new MPs work an average of 69 hours per week with 8 hours of travel on top.
However, it got me thinking: how many suitable people are not stepping forward to become our elected representatives because they are parents, carers, or have a disability or condition which makes the challenging role of MP something they dismiss as unfeasible? It is a disservice to the electorate if skilled people cannot stand for election because of the hours involved and/or multiple job locations. Do we have a true democracy? Are the best people for the role currently standing?
It is common knowledge that the UK parliament is not representative of the population. Currently there are 148 female MPs in the UK which calculates at less than 23% and on a global plane this ranks us as 54th behind 61 other countries. With the nature of disclosure around disability the actual figures are unknown but are 16% of MPs disabled in line with the percentage of working age adults in the UK classified as disabled (gov.uk)? What about the 10% of the population that are carers (ONS) (of which 57.7% are females (ONS)) — are they represented? 7.9 million households have dependent children (ONS). Considering there are around 40.6 million working age adults in the UK (ONS), approximately 19.4% of these adults are therefore primary carers of children. Within this 2 million are lone parents, of which 91% are women (ONS). How many MPs are their children’s primary carer and how many are doing this as a lone parent?
These statistics matter because research indicates that people are more able to empathise, support and act as an advocate for people like themselves. MPs, as all of us, are products of their upbringing and experiences, and are almost certainly biased whether they are aware of it or not. When they decide how to vote and work on committees, are they having holistic discussions bringing in the experiences and knowledge of a diverse population? Are their decisions the best fit for a diverse society?
The solution is MP job-sharing.
There are many benefits of job sharing: from decreasing unemployment and allowing talent to flourish while facilitating work-life balance, to contributing towards reducing mental health issues and stress. MP job-sharing provides the electorate with two skills sets and personalities and may even reduce costs. It is the perfect solution for those towards the end of their MP careers or whose circumstances have changed.
Since 2014 every employee is entitled to ask for flexible working arrangements, which means job-share networks such as Ginibee have being created. The Civil Service is especially accommodating of job-sharing so why not Government? I want to be able to represent my constituency as an MP on a job-share basis and I cannot be alone in this desire. I pulled together a introductory MP job description as no formal document exists and advertised for a job share partner. If my dual candidate and I are denied the right to stand then we can look into taking up a legal case but the time for change is now.