UK parliament struggles under weight of bullying complaints

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The U.K. parliament’s bullying and harassment helpline took more than three times as many calls as it anticipated in its first year | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

More than 700 calls made to helpline introduced last year to tackle accusations of bullying and harassment among staff.

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LONDON — The U.K. parliament’s bullying and harassment helpline took more than three times as many calls as it anticipated in its first year, with most of them going unaddressed.

The helpline received 704 calls from 233 individuals in the first 12 months of its existence, a “significantly higher” number than the 200 calls anticipated.

The helpline was introduced as part of a number of changes by MPs after reports of bullying, harassment and sexually inappropriate behavior by parliamentary staff. The claims, dubbed the “pestminster” scandal by the Sun newspaper, came to light shortly after the publication of allegations against filmmaker Harvey Weinstein, which prompted other victims of sexual abuse globally to share their stories using the #MeToo hashtag.

Just 34 of the complaints made to the U.K. parliament’s helpline were taken forward for investigation, of which only seven were fully assessed and upheld, according to the first annual report of parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme.

The data covers the period between July 19 2018 and June 30 2019.

“It is clear that some of the cases are taking far too long to conclude,” the report said, vowing to impose stricter deadlines for submitting evidence and closer monitoring of timescales.

A separate helpline dedicated to sexual misconduct, the Independent Sexual Misconduct Advisory Service, took 79 calls from 52 callers.

Most of those who contacted both helplines — 125 — were House of Commons or House of Lords staff, while 60 were MPs’ staff. The helplines took calls from eight MPs.

Most callers cited either bullying or harassment as the main incident, with the majority of cases taking place on the parliamentary estate.

The report cited power imbalances and parliament’s drinking culture as common patterns across the incidents reported.

Just 15 percent of MPs and 2 percent of peers had completed or booked themselves onto parliament’s anti-bullying and harassment training by the end of September, according to the findings.

The helpline was expected to receive around 200 calls a year “based on statistics from similar organizations,” according to the report.

“Many of the calls have been complex, with some callers providing a large amount of unsolicited information,” the report said. “This has resulted in a higher volume of work and a more varied level of contact than expected at the start of the contract.”

Complainants often expressed a lack of trust in the process, according to the report. “Some individuals, particularly longer-serving employees, have expressed concerns about the retribution they believe they could face as a result of complaining,” it said. The scheme also received complaints about the slow pace of its investigations.

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