Ig­nore this at our peril... Par­lia­ment has to change

Sunday Mirror (Northern Ireland) - - Talk Tv - BY SARAH CHAM­PION MP For­mer Shadow min­is­ter for Women and Equal­i­ties

SADLY, I have too much ex­pe­ri­ence of abuse scan­dals.

For the last five years I have been the Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for Rother­ham.

I know first-hand that if al­le­ga­tions of abuse are ig­nored and vic­tims be­lit­tled or afraid to re­port, a toxic en­vi­ron­ment can rapidly es­ca­late.

I have worked with sur­vivors of abuse in Rother­ham, Old­ham, Rochdale, Ox­ford. Abuse is al­ways about power. It can flour­ish when peo­ple don’t be­lieve there will be con­se­quences to their ac­tions.

With that in mind, we should not be sur­prised by the cur­rent abuse ru­mours about Par­lia­ment and politi­cians.

I had never been to Par­lia­ment be­fore be­com­ing an MP. It shocked me when I got there as the ar­chi­tec­ture, and the at­ti­tudes, were of an elite boys’ pub­lic school. While ev­ery­one was very po­lite to me, I had never felt more out of place, iso­lated or aware of be­ing a wo­man.

I was 43 years old, a for­mer CEO and now a par­lia­men­tar­ian. Think how it must feel to be 23 and a ju­nior ad­min­is­tra­tor, des­per­ate to have a ca­reer in pol­i­tics.

Rather than be­ing em­ployed by the party, MPs are ac­tu­ally self-em­ployed.

This means that their staff are di­rectly em­ployed by the MP, which au­to­mat­i­cally cre­ates a ten­sion.

If you have a prob­lem at work, you have to re­port it to the MP. If your prob­lem is in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour from your boss, would you have the courage to make the com­plaint? Do you think the claim would be up­held if you did?

Next, con­sider the ar­chi­tec­ture of Par­lia­ment. Each MP has their own lit­tle of­fice. We fre­quently work late and of­ten our staff are ex­pected to do the same.

Doors on the of­fices are usu­ally shut. When they are glass doors, they are frosted. Who would see if there was in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour go­ing on?

Who would be­lieve a ju­nior staff mem­ber’s word against an MP’s? While it is not re­al­is­tic to change the build­ings we work in, we can change the cul­ture. Par­lia­men­tary au­thor­i­ties need to es­tab­lish clear and in­de­pen­dent pro­ce­dures to probe al­le­ga­tions of mis­con­duct.

There needs to be poli­cies on whistle­blow­ing, sex­ual ha­rass­ment, abuse and in­tim­i­da­tion with sim­ple re­fer­ral pro­cesses. Sup­port and ad­vo­cacy needs to be given to known vic­tims and there should be a cul­ture of be­liev­ing vic­tims un­til the ev­i­dence shows oth­er­wise.

Par­lia­men­tary staff, elected of­fi­cials and party staff need train­ing in safe­guard­ing and ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour.

To me, th­ese seem mod­est and ef­fec­tive mea­sures. The vast ma­jor­ity of work­places have sim­i­lar prac­tices in place.

To make Par­lia­ment a safe work­ing en­vi­ron­ment for all, we need to adopt th­ese mea­sures too.

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