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Are UK Members of Parliament representative of the public?

As well as the idea of UK Members of Parliament representing the interest of their constituents, another is whether they should be a cross section of the general public so they can understand the problems of all groups in the population.

There is a perception that Westminster consists of a narrow political elite. Below are some statistics you can use in your studies to show the progress, or not, on this issue.

UK Members of Parliament after the 2017 General Election

  • Women now account for one in three MPs. 207 elected at the 2017 General Election.
  • 51 MPs from Black or Ethnic Minority backgrounds. They made up 7.8% of the 2017 Parliament
  • 45 LGBTQ Members of Parliament
  • 6 MPs who consider themselves to be disabled

Gender

Between 1945 -1983 the number of women MPs stayed at around 20. It rose to 41 in 1987 and 67 in 1992.

The Labour Party then adopted a policy of all-women shortlists for selecting candidates in many of its seats. When there was a large swing to Labour in 1997, the new Parliament saw 101 women MPs.

David Cameron, in opposition, wanted to attract new types of people as Conservative candidates. He created a centrally controlled ‘A list’ that constituencies could choose from. The number of women Conservatives MPs tripled in the 2010 Parliament.

Age

In 2015 MPs were older than the general population as the average age of an MP was 50. The general age of the population was 38. However a deeper look showed both younger and older people were underrepresented.

MPs typically enter Parliament in their 30s and 40s and look to retire in their late 60s, providing they have not been defeated in an election before then.

Ethnic Group

The number of black MPs rose from 14 to 27 in 2010 but this was still only 4% of MPs compared with 14% of the population. 

Occupation and ‘Class’

Class is a very complicated concept to measure and so most classifications use occupation.  In 2015 4% of MPs came from manual worker backgrounds whereas amongst adults 21% were skilled manual workers (C2 classification in the Census) and 15% were unskilled manual workers  (D classification) So, these groups are heavily underrepresented in Parliament. MPs are mainly from the higher professional groups (AB classification).

Education

90% of MPs in 2015 were university graduates compared with 22% of the adult population and 31% of the working age population.  35% went to a fee paying school compared with 7% of the population.

Political Class

There has been concern that more politicians become political advisers and organisers and then MPs through their party connections. This means they have not worked in other occupations and so do not have the same range of experience.  16% of MPs in 2015 had followed this route into Parliament.