MP’s expenses and other inaccurate claims

People often make claims to support their protest about something. Claims about tax avoidance, deaths, benefit fraud levels, or, on the other side of the political spectrum, claims about income, NHS spending, climate change etc. It is important to get facts right when making claims to protest about something because using a false claim to support your protest can wipe out any benefit from all the correct facts that you have claimed. The problem arises not just from a desire to mislead, but often from a complete failure to understand the claim and to check the facts, or the date on the information. In our efforts to make a political argument we often seize on a “fact” that we find and repeat it in a massive game of “Chinese Whispers” until it bears no resemblance to reality and is out of date anyway.

False claim about MP's groceries allowance

One such example is the idea that MPs routinely get £160 per week for groceries.It’s just not true. I have asked some MPS and they confirm that they do NOT get £160 per week for groceries. What is true is that MPs can claim for dinner if they are away from home late on parliamentary business or debating after 7:30pm in the House of Commons.

From the Parliamentary Standards Authority:

MPs can claim:

  • £25 per night for food and non-alcoholic drinks when travelling outside of the London Area and their constituency in pursuit of parliamentary functions
  • £15 per night for food and non-alcoholic drinks when the House of Commons sits beyond 7.30pm*

The typical amount that an MP might claim, in the rare circumstance of being away for five nights, is £125 for dinner out. If they have to eat out and aren’t living on kebabs while away then this is a likely cost. In normal circumstances they wouldn’t be claiming this at all. I’m not making any claim as to whether it is fair or not, just what the actual numbers are. (Also note that food in the Houses of Parliament is subsidised, a separate issue.)

The important point I want you all to take away from this is CHECK YOUR FACTS. If your claim is wrong, or even if it is nearly right, opponents will dismiss all your claims. I am guilty of this mistake too, but we should all try not to. Whether quoting benefit fraud rates or MPs expenses, find a trusted source and make sure you have the facts.