Interview : Lucy Powell MP, Labour Party
Lucy Powell is the Labour and Co-operative MP for Manchester Central and Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office. Lucy was elected to Parliament in a by-election in 2012 and was the first female Labour MP to represent a Manchester constituency. We chat to her about her career, role models and beyond…
When you were at school, what did you want to do for a career ‘when you got older’?
I wanted to be a Doctor or a lawyer.
What was the career advice like at school for you? Do you think the current support in schools is good enough? Does it encourage people to follow more obscure career paths like being a singer, artist, author, magician…
Careers advice was quite limited when I was at school. I was very good at maths and science but as a girl I was not as encouraged as I should have been.
Current provision for careers advice falls short of what we should be providing and is failing our young people. Careers advice has been dramatically cut by the Tory led government and reports show that schools are now offering inadequate advice.
The reforms that the Government have made to the curriculum have damaged the choices available for young people. Primary school children participating in music fell from over half to a third in the three years to 2013 and the number of arts and culture teachers in schools has fallen. This is a direct consequence of the government’s changes to the curriculum.
Children from all backgrounds should get to experience the arts – people from my constituency in Manchester Central should have as much right to experience the arts as people from other areas.
Were you encouraged to follow your dreams at school and at home?
I was lucky in that I was encouraged by my parents and by teachers at my high school and college and I have always been encouraged to have high aspirations for myself.
I have kept in touch with my school and my college and it is a great feeling to revisit them as an MP. My college Xavarien College in Manchester is attended by lots of my constituents and I have returned to visit them many times to talk to students. I hope that I’ll be able to give something back by inspiring a younger generation of people to have aspirations for themselves.
How important is it to have visible diverse role models from all walks of life and backgrounds?
Too many of our institutions are dominated by people with very narrow backgrounds and experiences and this is bad for our democracy and our society. Diverse role models can empower younger people by showing them that they can achieve and succeed whatever their background.
The Labour Party have used all women shortlists to make sure that we have more women representing us. This certainly has its detractors and is an imperfect tool but has sped up the representation of women in politics enormously. Politics can still feel too much like a male dominated world but this is changing and Labour are leading the way on that.
As well as encouraging women we need to be engaging with a wide range of people to make sure that politics looks more like society. We need more elected representatives from BAME communities as well as more LGBT people.
Did you have any role models growing up and what impact have they had on your life?
My main role models growing up were my mum and dad but as I grew up I was inspired by the legacies of female Labour MP’s who have made a difference like Mo Mowlam. Mo is somebody who really inspired me early in my political career by being a principled and determined woman who was able to have a massive impact on UK politics and left a legacy in her work on the Northern Ireland peace process.
“Diverse role models can empower younger people by showing them that they can achieve and succeed whatever their background.”
As a busy working mother, do you have a successful work / life balance?
Recently my life was incredibly busy with the General Election and I’m not sure that I’m the best person for that advice at the moment!
It can be incredibly hard to fit in all of my work commitments alongside all of the usual things that working families do – school runs, parents evenings, sports clubs etc. Luckily I have a very supportive husband and we share responsibilities between us. I also have the support of my family including my mum and dad who both help out a lot.
I know how hard it can be to get that work life balance and that is why I am passionate about extending working parents access to free childcare and improving our attitude to flexible working.
“Politics can still feel too much like a male dominated world but this is changing.”
Do you believe there is enough support for single parents who want to get back in to work after taking a career break, and don’t have a support network around them and are struggling with childcare costs?
It can be incredibly difficult to go back to work after taking time out for your child. It is often a very emotional time for both parent and baby who suddenly find themselves apart. Many people are not fortunate enough to be able to call on family or friends to provide informal childcare and the costs can be extraordinary.
I have been a passionate campaigner for more free childcare for working parents and Labour pledged to increase provision to 25 hours per week for parents of 3 and 4 year olds. I also think we need a serious culture change in the way we see flexible working.
What’s a typical day like for you?
There isn’t really such thing at the moment! My time is mainly taken up with Parliament and then constituency meetings and visits and all of the usual family commitments and time with my children.