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Opinion

How MPs’ work ethic can really help deal with our labour shortage

If MPs really need a second job, there’s an HGV driver deficit that needs sorting, writes Big Issue editor Paul McNamee.

Human beings, said the great Italian writer and Holocaust survivor Primo Levi, are biologically built for an activity aimed toward a goal.

Work without purpose, he said, gives rise to suffering and to atrophy. I haven’t heard this used as an excuse yet for MPs who desire to take on a glut of highly paid extra work, but we can’t be THAT far from it.

Although, if you’re pulling down several hundred per hour to advise the gambling industry you might not have much time to read. Especially if you have to find a way to raise a supportive point about the gambling industry in Westminster.

The argument that MPs using their position to feather their own nest is only a Westminster issue has long since sailed. That is a convenient shield that other MPs employ. It’s normally followed with a phrase like, “What I’m hearing is that people are more concerned with…”. None of it washes anymore.

How do you find a way to say the poorest in society need to get used to doing without £20 a week in vital universal credit payments you’re stripping from them when you chisel out thousands because you’re cheek by jowl with third-party interests?

Aren’t constituents’ concerns, on any range of issues – let’s say the cladding crisis, or how about the growing gap between income and cost of living – enough to dominate time?

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And it’s particularly hard to stack up any big argument for it when rates of malnutrition, and conditions like scurvy, are galloping in England. Over 10,000 people were hospitalised in England last year with malnutrition. That’s doubled in the 10 years of the current government. That is shocking.

Incidentally, it’s not clear what the figures are for malnutrition in Scotland and Wales. The Scots figures don’t mention it, and it’ll take a Freedom of Information request to prise it out of Cardiff.

Of course, it’s not every MP who is, to use a great, simple Scottish phrase, at it. There are a lot of fine representatives in Parliament who genuinely put their constituents first. And for all the ongoing hammering the Lords take, it is in that chamber that the government faces some of its sternest questions.

Still, there is a general stench in the place, and when people are tramping the same floor it’s hard to discern exactly who has brought it in on their shoe.

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At heart this is an issue of do as I say, not as I do. This bloomed during the dark days of lockdown, when it seemed that who you knew was more vital to getting a lucrative logistics contract than what you knew. That feeling dissipated as vaccines helped us all go blinking out into the world again. But it’s roared back now.

There is no way for government to spin it away from them. Britons do not like being preached at. This particular issue is not going to melt away. More uncomfortable exposure is on the way.

I would like to see those MPs struggling offered some practical and useful solutions to make up for their financial shortfalls. If we are going to support those in society who are most in need, we have to be broad with help.

There is an HGV driver deficit. With some training, that’s a second job that could be done by our in-need members.

Also, as Christmas approaches, retailers are desperate for some casual help. There are only so many students around to pack the extra boxes for Amazon.

Maybe in a massive warehouse, somewhere, some MPs could find their moral compass.

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big IssueRead more of his columns here.

paul.mcnamee@bigissue.com

@PauldMcNamee

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