‘We need to make it easier for mums to be both: parents – and politicians'

Access to pensions and parental leave would encourage more people into politics, says prominent councillor

Friday, 25th March — By Anna Lamche

islpics Image 2022-03-25 at 08.24.31

Alice Perry is looking forward to ‘eating dinner at dinner time’

A LACK of access to parental leave and pensions are a “barrier that stops more people getting involved in politics,” a prominent councillor has warned as she stands down after more than a decade at the Town Hall.

Alice Perry said that more now needed to be done to encourage people from more diverse backgrounds to get involved in politics.

Her time representing the St Peter’s ward will come to an end at May’s boroughwide elections. “I want to see more mums involved in politics,” she said. “A lot of women drop out of politics when they reach a certain age.”

Cllr Perry is herself a mother to a young daughter born just before the pandemic. “The Labour group has been extremely supportive but it is still challenging,” she said.

Having served as the Labour group’s chief whip from 2015-2016, Cllr Perry said one of her greatest achievements in that role was to enshrine the rights of Islington councillors to take parental leave.

On top of parenting, Cllr Perry has always kept her job outside politics, where she heads up alumni relations at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“I’m glad I always kept a full-time job outside of politics,” she said. “Councillors don’t get a pension: if I hadn’t had another job, that would have been 10 years without pension savings.

“As an equality issue, if we want more people to be on the council, we have to restore councillors’ access to local government pension schemes. It’s a barrier that stops people getting involved in politics.”

At times, it has been difficult juggling a full-time job while being a councillor and a parent, she said, adding: “One of the jokes about being a councillor is you end up eating your dinners at midnight – I’m looking forward to eating my dinner at dinner time.”

Being a backbencher at the Town Hall demands “about 20 hours a week,” Cllr Perry estimated and said: “People don’t do it for the money. It’s a vocation.” She added: “When I first got elected, Sarah Hayward, then the leader of Camden Council, said: ‘congratulations, you’ve put your life through the shredder.’ I didn’t realise how much work it was going to be.”

Her father, Rupert, a taxi driver, also served as an Islington councillor and stood down in 2018. Looking ahead, Cllr Perry has welcomed Islington Labour’s new team of candidates, stressing the importance of social diversity in local politics.

“It’s one of those difficult things: how do you define working class? Whether it’s those who haven’t gone to university, or have been state-school educated or something else,” she said. “The vast majority of MPs have a degree, but you don’t need to have a degree or be a professional to be an excellent politician.”

Cllr Perry added: “I’m proud of the changes I made as chief whip to improve council meetings. We introduced extra time for members of the public to ask questions. “We knew it was really important we created space for dissenting voices.”

Cllr Perry has also represented local Labour councillors on the Labour party’s governing body, the National Executive Committee (NEC), for the last eight years.

She said that like everyone else, the coronavirus pandemic made her “pause and reflect” on her life. “I was intending to stand again, and then I thought: what if I didn’t?,” she added. “The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a good time to find some new, exciting opportunities.”

“I’m staying on the NEC until September, which will be really interesting – after that I might catch up on all the reality TV I’ve missed over the last 11 years.”

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