A screenshot of a tweet posted on Facebook claims: “The taxpayers contribute about £4m to subsidise food drink [sic] in the Houses of Parliament. I don’t understand why MPs with a basic salary of £79,468 can’t afford to pay for their own food and drink. We should use the money to help children who skip meals due to severe poverty.”
Although it was originally posted in 2019, the post has gone viral again recently and now has over 34,000 shares.
Catering services in the Houses of Parliament run at a loss, so while food and drink aren’t directly subsidised, public money is effectively spent subsidising the whole operation. The Houses of Parliament publishes data on how much money running these services costs and has done so every year since 2011.
The tweet claimed that taxpayers contribute “about £4m”.
Most recently, in 2020/21, the total costs of running the catering services minus the sales income was £9.1 million, which is the highest recorded so far. This is because it covered the period of coronavirus lockdowns in England when many staff, including MPs, were working from home and visits (and therefore sales) were limited.
The House of Commons’ accounts state that, as no tours operated and very few staff or visitors were allowed on the estate in 2020/21, catering was “severely curtailed” and made just over £800,000 in income, down from £9.6 million the year before.
The post was published in 2019, and the data for 2017/18 (which would probably have been the most recent available data at the time) showed the catering services lost £3.1 million. The data notes that this was an election year where there were lower sales. In 2018/19 the cost was £2.6 million.
It’s not just MPs who use these services. There are 14,500 parliamentary pass-holding staff, including MPs' staff, parliament staff, civil servants, contractors, peers, journalists, as well as visitors, who can eat and drink in parliament’s bars and restaurants.
The post also claims that MPs earn £79,468, which was correct at the time it was first posted. MPs now earn £81,932.