A post shared by thousands of people on Twitter wrongly claims that the government spends “£17m a year subsidising food in Parliament”.
The post, which has also been shared a number of times on Facebook, goes on to say that the £17 million total is “ £30,000 per MP and that’s BEFORE expenses”.
This is completely inaccurate. As we have written before, catering services on the parliamentary estate are effectively subsidised by the taxpayers at a cost of millions of pounds each year. However, the yearly total is significantly lower than £17 million and catering services are offered to thousands of people working there—not just MPs.
False or misleading claims about politicians have the potential to affect people’s opinions of individuals, parties or how they choose to vote. We often see these types of claims spread widely online.
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How much does catering in the Houses of Parliament cost?
The post doesn’t give a source for the figure of £17 million per year, so we can’t say exactly where this claim comes from. However, Open Democracy reported in May 2022 that £17 million was spent subsidising food and drink in the House of Commons specifically over a period of three years.
In the same three years, it also reported that a further £8 million had been spent subsidising food and drink at the House of Lords.
In a response to a Freedom of Information request, a spokesperson for the House of Commons said that it does not provide a subsidised catering service “in the commercial sense of the word”.
However, catering services in the Houses of Parliament are run at a loss, which means that while food and drink aren’t directly subsidised, public money is spent on maintaining the system.
The House of Commons has published data on the cost of catering services every year since 2011.
Most recently, in 2021/22, the total cost of catering services minus the sales income was just over £7.5 million. In 2020/21, this cost was around £9.1 million.
These are both much higher than the costs in previous years. In 2019/20 it cost £4.6 million, 2018/19 £2.6 million, 2017/18 £3.1 million and 2016/17 £2.9 million.
The costs were so high in 2020/21 because it included Covid-19 lockdowns in England, which meant many people worked from home and sales were limited, but fixed costs remained high.
The House of Commons’ accounts for this period state that, due to tours of the estate being shut down and very few staff or visitors allowed on site, catering was “severely curtailed”.
Catering services don’t just provide food and drink for MPs
The post’s claim that the catering service costs around £30,000 per MP is also misleading, as it ignores the fact that the “subsidised” food and drink is available to thousands of other people.
The House of Commons has said that as well as 650 MPs, the catering services are also open to around 14,500 other parliamentary pass holders such as MPs staff, House staff, civil servants, contractors, Peers, members of the press and a “large number” of non-pass holding visitors.