Whilst Head of Public Affairs for Macmillan Cancer Support
Apart from your current organisation which other organisations that campaign do you admire and why?
Like most people I think the mental health community has had a pretty raw deal for far too long. I’m full of admiration at the way that, despite repeated ‘false-dawns’, mental health organisations like Mind and Rethink have refused to give up. Their determination is grounded in the belief that the current situation just isn’t fair (it isn’t) and needs to change no matter how long it takes. It now looks like there is, finally, going to be parity of esteem between physical and mental health conditions which will be fantastic and long-overdue.
Generally are organisations getting better at campaigning since you began your career? If so, what’s changed?
A lot are but some still see campaigning as the thing you do when you’ve run out of new service development ideas, which rather misses the point in my opinion. At Macmillan Cancer Support we recognise that we are only going to dramatically improve the lives of people affected by cancer through a combination of creative service innovation and influencing. In terms of changes I’ve seen in how Macmillan campaigns, alongside the greater involvement of people affected by cancer and the use of social media, we’ve invested significantly over the past few years in our research function so that in telling our story we can add even harder evidence to our on-the-ground expertise and the thousands of (good and bad) stories of people affected by cancer. I think this reflects the reality that, generally-speaking, new ideas will now only make progress where they can clearly demonstrate to decision-makers and commissioners that they will deliver better outcomes for the end-user using less money and resources.
Which campaigner inspires you most?
I admire the innovators – the often lone individuals who decide they want to change something and drive it through using a new technology or social media tool at virtually no cost. Maybe it is more jealousy than admiration! My Public Affairs Team inspires me everyday – they’re the most passionate bunch of brilliant, driven people. But I’m probably most inspired by the people affected by cancer I meet. The ones who stand up in Parliament, often overwhelmed with nerves, and tell their story about the awful treatment they had, or how they couldn’t cope after the death of their son or daughter, or how they lost their job while going through treatment. All they want to do is try and stop another family going through what they went through. Those moments go to the heart of what it means to be a part of Macmillan and why it is such a privilege to do the job I do.
What three attributes make a good campaigner?
Passion tempered with realism, an ability to think ‘what next?’ before the competition, and a constant sense of dissatisfaction!
What’s the most rewarding or exciting campaign you’ve worked on and why?
I’ve been very fortunately to work on a number of successful campaigns which have changed people’s lives for the better – that’s what makes them rewarding. I was heavily involved in shaping the Disability Discrimination Act public duties and securing free prescriptions for cancer patients. The two most exciting moments I’ve had recently both involved our work around the Welfare Reform Act. Firstly, when Ed Miliband used all six questions at PMQs to demand that David Cameron listen to Macmillan and other cancer charities and, secondly, when we defeated the Government three times in the Lords.
How do you feel campaigns will change over the next five years?
The devolution of decision-making powers in health and social care means that local influencing – or more accurately multi-level influencing – will becomes even more important. I think the role of the end user in direct campaigning is also going to continue to grow. I mentioned the need for even more hard evidence to demonstrate the case for reform. Interestingly, I think the lack of money has also meant that the Government and Opposition Parties are starting to think in more creative ways – and involving more stakeholders – to solve problems. I think campaigners will also follow suit.
So, for example, rather than Macmillan campaigning to ensure benefit payments for cancer patients aren’t cut, I can see us working far more in partnership with employers and insurance companies to see how we can keep more cancer patients in work, ensure they are supported financially while they can’t work, and then get them back to work more successfully after treatment. The outcome is hopefully the same – less cancer patients and families in poverty – but the way of achieving the outcome reflects the need to do things differently. I should stress it isn’t an ‘either or’ but I expect there will be a shift away from campaigning for state action to solve problems.
What advice would you give someone starting their career in campaigning today?
We have an amazing internship programme at Macmillan and I am forever telling our interns to learn their trade properly first before deciding how to use the trade. If you’re in a fantastic learning environment and you’re also doing precisely what you want then that’s a bonus (and don’t move!) but that’s rare. If you have to compromise go for an organisation which really does value personal and team development.
If you weren’t a campaigner, what would you be?
I would be the jazz pianist for Ronnie Scott’s House Band. This would require me to learn to play the piano first though.