With a new crop of MPs entering the House of Commons, the media has celebrated “the most diverse Parliament yet”.
There are now record numbers of women, ethnic minorities and openly LGBT MPs in the Parliament (although there is still under-representation of these groups).
But how about other things, like education and occupation? Do our MPs’ social and professional background reflect the make-up of the UK?
FactCheck took a look at the figures.
How many went to private school?
Only around seven per cent of the UK population went to private school. But, for years, Parliament has massively over-represented this demographic.
It used to be far worse, though. Back in the 1979, around half of all MPs from the main three parties had been to private school. That included nearly three quarters of Conservatives and more than half of the Lib Dem MPs.
Labour has always had a far lower proportion of privately educated MPs, but it has nevertheless remained significantly above the 7 percent national average.
According to research by the Sutton Trust, the figures are slowly becoming more representative of the population. Among the current crop of MPs, 29 per cent are privately educated. But that’s still around four times the overall UK figure.
The proportion of MPs who went to comprehensive schools has now squeaked over the 50 per cent mark. In 2015, they accounted for 49 per cent. And that was up from 43 per cent in 2010.
Meanwhile, the proportion who went to state grammar schools has gone down slightly. But they still account for just short of one in five MPs.
Here’s the Sutton Trust’s breakdown of current MPs:
How many went to Oxford and Cambridge?
Conservative MPs are most likely to have gone to Oxbridge. But the proportions are a lot smaller than they once were. In 1997, more than half of all Conservative MPs attended one of the two universities.
The House of Commons is gradually becoming more balanced, but there are still a hugely disproportionate number of Oxbridge graduates.
Sutton Trust data shows that nearly a quarter of all current MPs went to Oxbridge, for undergraduate or postgraduate degrees. That compares to less than 1 per cent of the UK population who went to Oxbridge.
If we add in those who went to Russell Group universities, this brings the figure up to more than half of all MPs. In comparison, about 11 per cent of the UK population (who attended a Russell Group university, Oxford or Cambridge).
What jobs did MPs do before being elected?
This is a tricky one to get precise data on – a degree of personal judgement is unavoidable. For instance, should you focus on the bulk of their career history, or the job they were in immediately before entering parliament?
Many MPs have worked in multiple sectors, and may have even worked two jobs at the same time. What’s more, when someone works in the private sector, it could be debatable whether to define their career by sector, or the all-encompassing label of ‘business’.
So, drawing a simple pie chart is never going to be an exact science. All we can do is paint a rough picture based on the (sometimes limited) information available.
No official figures have been published on this yet, so FactCheck used the Who’s Who database, along with MPs’ websites and newspaper reports, to gather the information. We accounted for all but two of Parliament’s 650 MPs. (NB: due to those with dual careers, some MPs are counted more than once).
Politics, business, law and finance account for more than half of the previous occupations held by current MPs.
Conservatives account for the overwhelming majority of MPs who previously worked in business and finance.
Labour MPs, meanwhile, made up the majority of those who came from charities, councils, education and trade unions.
MPs who have come from jobs in politics or the legal profession are more evenly mixed between the main parties.
Are there more career politicians?
The rise of ‘career politicians’ is a long established trend and appears to have continued in this election. Parliamentary records suggest the percentage of MPs who previously worked as a politician or “political organiser” has risen steadily for years.
This graph uses our figures for 2017, and Parliament’s own data for previous election years.
But don’t think that only around a fifth of MPs have previous political experience. The chart is only based on their principle careers in the few years before becoming an MP.
If we add up all those who have ever held a formal political position – from councilors, to special advisers, to MEPs – the total rises to at least 60 per cent of MPs. (And the true figure could be even higher if there are more that we could not find a reliable reference to).
How many MPs have second jobs?
We don’t know the answer to this one yet, because the new Register of Members’ Interests has not been published. According to Parliament’s website MPs have one month to declare any second jobs or outside earnings they may have. The list is then published “as soon as possible thereafter”.
Recent estimates have suggested around 46 per cent of MPs declared outside earnings over the course of a year. But many of those will be one-off payments for media appearances, such as for media appearances or speeches. But some politicians have previously held lucrative job contracts in law, finance and other sectors, whilst simultaneously being an MP.
When it is published, the next Register of Interests will give us an indication of whether that is on the decline or not.
So, is Parliament really socially diverse?
Here’s the conclusion the Sutton Trust came to. Based on the data available, we think it’s about right.
“Over time, the number of privately educated MPs is gradually decreasing. However, MPs are still far more likely than their constituents to have been privately educated, and the pace of change is slow. At the current rate, it will take almost sixty years (if an election occurs every five years) before the percentage of MPs who are privately educated matches that of today’s general population.
“MPs are also more likely to have attended an elite university. Whilst it is
not surprising that many MPs are well educated, these institutions are still disproportionally attended by the better off. Clearly, every young person in the UK does not have an equal opportunity to become an MP.”