UK Politics

Tighter expenses rules 'harming MPs' mental health'

Palace of Westminster
Image caption The new system was set up following the expenses scandal of 2009

The new, tougher expenses regime is damaging MPs' "mental wellbeing", the doctor who looks after them has said.

Dr Ira Madan told a committee looking into the system that its "frustrations and difficulties" had increased workloads but decreased rewards.

She also said MPs were tired of being the butt of jokes about their expenses.

And she said they were coming under greater pressure because of the "increased ability for constituents to readily contact members by email".

Following the expenses scandal of 2009, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority - Ipsa - was set up to more closely monitor MPs' allowances.

But MPs have complained that the new system is costly and bureaucratic, and has left many of them out of pocket.

'Up their noses'

Dr Madan, consultant occupational physician at the House of Commons, said Ipsa was being raised by more and more politicians as a source of pressure.

"The frustrations and difficulties that members are experiencing with Ipsa are contributing to poor mental wellbeing," she told the expenses committee.

"If people do become unwell it's normally not just one factor that I can identify. It is an effort/reward balance I would look at.

"The efforts MPs are putting into their work has increased for a variety of reasons - and one of those is Ipsa - and the rewards have decreased.

"The bureaucracy of Ipsa has increased their workload, they find it increasingly frustrating to deal with Ipsa, they are concerned that the way the expenses are reported by Ipsa is picked up by their local constituency press and there can be some fairly vitriolic reporting of that."

Dr Madan, who is employed by Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Trust and works one day a week in Parliament, said MPs had complained of constant expenses jokes.

"If they go to the hairdresser people will say 'Are you going to put that on expenses?'. It might be funny for the first one or two times but actually it gets right up their noses," she said.

She said MPs told her completing and checking Ipsa paperwork took up to 20% of their time at Westminster and 10 hours a week or more of an assistant's time.

She said Parliament should reduce the burden imposed by the expenses system "as far as possible in order to minimise the risk of Members developing psychological symptoms".

Dr Madan said she felt strongly that MPs did "a very tough job that is not always appreciated by press and public".

In particular, she said a significant factor behind "psychological problems" experienced by some MPs lay was the strain of being away from their families.

"MPs recognise that the nature of their job will inevitably disrupt their family life but the current allowance system appears to obstruct rather than encourage members to spend as much time as their job allows with their families," she wrote in her written evidence.

Around 40% of MPs take up the offer of a three-yearly health screening and Dr Madan assesses 50-70 per year.

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