The Truth on Being a Student and Working for an MP


Millie Simon (she/her) explains the most challenging aspects of working for a member of parliament

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Image by Millie Simon

By Millie Simon

Almost 8 months into being a Parliamentary and Constituency assistant to an MP, it’s still as surreal as it was on the first day.
After an internship last summer, I continued working with the York Central MP, Rachael Maskell, focusing on housing and crime casework, as well as writing campaign letters and attending surgeries. Constituents will write in with problems concerning landlords, damp and mould, anti-social behaviour and parking tickets, and it is our job to help resolve those issues locally, or take them to Westminster.

It’s an absolute privilege to have the responsibility to support people with housing and crime related issues on behalf of an elected representative. However, there is no denying the system is broken. Since joining the team as an intern in June 2023, the number of people writing in with more serious problems has increased particularly throughout the winter when people are struggling to afford their heating bills or there is a significant damp and mould issue causing worrying respiratory problems.

Social housing has been decimated by the lack of Government funding to councils across the country. The City of York Council has reiterated the message that the Conservative Government refuses to provide enough financial support to their aspiration of building affordable houses in York.

Not least helped by the Right to Buy scheme first introduced by Margaret Thatcher, which allows council tenants to buy the home they are renting from the council at a discounted rate. This deincentivises councils to build homes if they are to be sold into the private sector.

As assistants to an MP, we will continue to hear horrifying stories of constituents unable to afford their rent, mortgage or service charge, unless we invest in social housing.

As well as emailing constituents, councils and ministers, another part of the job is to attend surgeries with the MP. Constituents, who want to meet their MP in person or over the phone, have the opportunity to talk about the issues they’re facing and need assistance with.
Many of the stories we hear of the hardship of people’s lives are heartbreaking, particularly with housing issues. We constantly hear people struggling to pay their rent in York, because there aren’t rent controls on landlords who increase the rent, sometimes just for the sake of it. Young people in particular are affected. I have been emailed by students who simply can’t afford their rent because maintenance loans barely cover their rent.

Visiting Parliament is another privilege of working for an MP. Just like any other Politics student, the thrill of Parliament doesn’t expire. Along with a colleague, I recently had a grand tour of the House of Commons, House of Lords and Portcullis House (where some MPs have their offices). One particular surreal moment was walking past Jacob Rees-Mogg, Wes Streeting and Jeremy Corbyn’s Comms and Media manager.

I had the opportunity to sit in on the committee stage of the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill which sets out to allow tenants to buy the land in which the home they rent or own is situated on. This is a problem for residents here in York, who often find that the service charge (which is the money paid by the tenant for the upkeep of the grounds) is extremely expensive.
The committee went through all the amendments proposed and scrutinised every line of the Bill.

One highlight was meeting Coventry South MP, Zarah Sultana. We talked about Islamophobia in The Labour Party, her new Bill which seeks to scrutinise arm sales to Israel and the importance of trade unions. I’ve met my fair share of MPs - on all sides of the political spectrum - but I’ve never felt as calm meeting an MP as I did with Zarah. She was an incredibly humble, kind and articulate person and those qualities definitely drive her politics.

The biggest challenge to being an assistant to an MP is detaching myself from the work. My inbox is flooded with ordinary, hard working people trying to secure a home that doesn’t cause respiratory problems, or rents that exceed their wage or separate rooms for their children. And yet, there are still news headlines reporting record profits for owners of corporations or politicians blaming migrants for the low standard of living.

For many people having to contact their MP, it’s a very bleak time. But with successes in obtaining a home, or resolving neighbourly conflicts and contacting ministers on behalf of constituents, it’s an honour to be a part of helping support people in York.