If you ever feel like, when looking at the state of politics in the UK right now (see: three Prime Ministers in one year), you're living in an episode of Black Mirror – get ready for this. Despite the current ongoing cost of living crisis, which has seen the majority of us have to tighten our belts, stress about rising energy bills and rents, and food prices jumping up, MPs have been told they're allowed to spend thousands on staff Christmas parties and - for the first time - expense it all back to us, the taxpayers.
Now, given the fact that nurses have also just agreed to strike for the first time in history, citing the fact that the NHS is majorly struggling, and that they're overworked and underpaid, wouldn't it be better to say... put the money spent on Shloer and sausage rolls into something more worthwhile? Something that'll maybe go towards stopping over a quarter of NHS trusts having to run food banks for staff?
I'm pretty sure if you were able to run a poll asking taxpayers what we'd be comfortable having our hard-earned money spent on, the answer wouldn't be a karaoke machine for Rishi and co. It's also a massive kick in the teeth for all those families who lost loved ones during the three lockdowns we faced as a country and who weren't able to say goodbye to their nearest and dearest properly, due to rules forbidding hospital visits or high attendance at funerals. Rules that the government have since been found guilty of ignoring, as they had pizza and Prosecco parties, which even resulted in fist fights and one attendee vomiting.
A new report from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) is advising that MPs must keep in mind "value for money" when organising their staff parties, and said the expenses cannot be redeemed against alcohol.
The guidance added that "as with all claims, value for money should be considered and all claims will be published in the usual manner" and that festive meet-ups must be "within a parliamentary context [as opposed to a] purely a social event". But given the government's history of trying to pass off actual parties as 'meetings', how can any of us truly feel comfortable with this?
MPs are also permitted to expense back the costs of Christmas cards, although they've been warned that cards "should not be sent to large groups or all constituents as there is a risk this may not represent value for money and could be considered self-promotional".
In terms of a cap on any Christmas party spending, MPs in London have an annual office costs budget of £31,620 and for those with seats outside of the capital, it's £28,570.
Tweeting about the new IPSA reports, Labour MP Jess Phillips was keen to stress that the guidance has not been pushed forward by tone deaf MPs, and added that she was as shocked as anyone to hear it.
Just want to say no one asked for this, no one I know will use it. The guidance wasn't made by MPs and yet we will be pilloried for it. I think it's really irresponsible to issue this guidance as if MPs have been clamouring for it when I've literally never heard anyone do that. https://t.co/d1nIfuSZcC
— Jess Phillips MP (@jessphillips) November 22, 2022
"Just want to say no one asked for this, no one I know will use it," she shared. "The guidance wasn't made by MPs and yet we will be pilloried for it. I think it's really irresponsible to issue this guidance… when I've literally never heard anyone do that."
She added, "I have a tree in my office we dust off every year and decorations (tinsel and baubles from Wilkos) that I paid for. We have home made decorations made by kids in a local school and some knitted fairy lights garland made by a lovely local knitting group (again which I paid for).
"I will throw a Christmas party for my staff, it will be in my home where I will cook and pay for all of the food and drink. Once again I reiterate that there was no clamour for this from MPs and it's stupid."
One recent analysis by The Independent unearthed that MPs have billed taxpayers close to £200,000 for bills related to their second homes over the past year.
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