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Parliament’s bullying and harassment helpline took nearly four times the number of calls expected in its first year

Parliament’s bullying and harassment helpline took nearly four times the number of calls expected in its first year
3 min read

Parliament’s new bullying and harassment helpline received nearly four times the number of calls expected in its first year in operation.

The first annual report on the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) said it received 704 calls from July 2018 to June 2019, far more than the 200 that were forecast.

In addition, a new sexual harassment helpline, known as the Independent Sexual Misconduct Advisory (ISMA) Service, received 79 calls.

The ICGS was set up last year as a new way of dealing with allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct in Westminster.

Eight MPs were were among those who called the helplines, the report revealed.

According to the report, feedback from callers to both helplines showed the majority of incidents have “involved issues surrounding actual or perceived power imbalances".

“The ISMA Helpline reported that more than half of callers were reluctant to report their case due to the fact that the person about whom they were complaining had friends or colleagues in senior positions,” it added.

“The callers were also worried about any negative impact that such a complaint might have on their career opportunities. 

“Several callers described there being ‘prolific offenders’ who had not been reported to the Helpline or other procedures, for similar reasons.”

A "drinking culture" in Parliament was also identified by the ICGS team, although they also said that alcohol had been a “minor factor” in inappropriate behaviour.

When callers volunteered information on the whereabouts of the incidents, the Parliamentary Estate was the most cited with 144 incidents.

However just 34 complaints referred from the helplines were taken forward for an independent investigation.

Out of 17 where full assessments were carried out, seven complaints were upheld.

The report also revealed that by the end of September 2019, 15% of MPs were expected to have completed training to tackle abuse, compared to 4% of MPs’ staffers, and 40% of House of Commons and House of Lords staff.

Reforms to ICGS policy have also taken place over the year in line with recommendations from the Dame Laura Cox report, and Naomi Ellenbogen QC’s report, such as the expansion of complaints to allow for non-recent cases in the Commons.

The figures also come after damning findings from Gemma White QC's report which concluded bullying and harassment was "sufficiently widespread" for those working in MPs offices. 

Reflecting on the landmark report, ICGS senior responsible owner Lee Bridges said: “These reviews, and our experience of running it, have identified its flaws but also its opportunities to have a lasting impact on the working lives of the parliamentary community. 

“Although conscious of the things that need to change, I am heartened by the positive comments that we have received from users of the Scheme. 

“Being on the receiving end of unacceptable behaviour is corrosive and undermining, and if the work we have done has brought resolution for just one person, then all that work has been worthwhile.”

And responding to the findings, a UK Parliament spokesperson said:  “Parliament’s Behaviour Code makes clear the standards of behaviour expected of everyone in Parliament, whether staff, members of the House of Lords, MPs or visitors. 

“We welcome the findings of the first annual report of the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) and we will study these carefully as we continue to make Parliament a better place to work. Parliament’s cultural transformation programmes will create an environment where everyone can thrive.”

The ICGS team is now working to create an entirely independent process to determine complaints away from MPs, as recommended by Dame Laura.

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