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The Policy Ask with Martin Coppack: “I didn’t have the same ‘prestigious’ education as my peers”

The director of social justice campaign group Fair By Design on financial inclusion, toxic workplaces and not being “polished”.

By Spotlight

Martin Coppack is the director of Fair By Design, the campaign group that aims to end the “poverty premium” that the poor pay every day because policies and systems are not designed to be fair. Prior to this role, he was a board member of the Association of Charitable Foundations, the Nationwide Foundation and the Institute of Consumer Affairs, as well as a commissioner for the disability charity Scope’s Commission on Extra Costs for Disabled People.

How do you start your working day?

You mean after my power yoga, 10-kilometre run and meditation session…? I start my day with lots of coffee and a thorough scan of my diary. I’m a reflective person, and like to plan my day and get my thoughts in order. I’m also a bit of an extrovert and love meeting people, especially face to face, and always try to make time for meeting with people.

What has been your career high?

Such a tough one! I’ve been very lucky to gain experience in many different roles, each with their own highs, from seeing my students become more independent when I was a special education teacher, to creating a new approach to how financial services companies treat vulnerable consumers when I was at the Financial Conduct Authority. In terms of my time at Fair By Design, I was particularly pleased (relieved!) at not just surviving a two-hour grilling by the Treasury Select Committee, but convincing them to make financial inclusion a key part of their recommendations to government, even though it was not part of their inquiry.

What has been the most challenging moment of your career?

I have worked for many organisations before. I have to say that, without a doubt, the most challenging was working for an organisation that was toxic to the core and which used bullying and manipulation to get what it wanted from staff. I survived it and managed to help change the culture a bit, but it took its mental and physical toll on me. I learned a lot about how not to manage people, but I also learned a lot about myself and what I would be willing to tolerate in a workplace (or anywhere) in the future.

If you could give your younger self career advice, what would it be?

As I began my career in policy I began to realise I didn’t quite fit the usual mould. I didn’t have the same “prestigious” educational background as many of my peers, nor the networks or the “polish”. These qualities were seen as desirable if you wanted to progress – and often still are. I worried about this but, in the end, I became more comfortable. Being comfortable in my own skin, and authentic about what I had to offer, was ultimately helpful to my career. 

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This does rely on people willing to look past “polish” though, and luckily for me there were people who recognised that and helped champion me and my work. We all need to tackle social mobility and it’s something I’m passionate about.

Which political figure inspires you?

Emma Hardy, MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, and Treasury Select Committee member. I’ve had the pleasure of working with her recently. Her passion for inclusion and her approach to working collaboratively to create change – including with members of other parties – are inspiring. She’s also an ex-teacher like me!

What UK policy or fund is the government getting right?

The Treasury’s funding for the No-Interest Loans pilot is fantastic. If you are poor you pay more for life’s essentials. This is especially the case with credit. This pilot provides loans to people who cannot even afford affordable credit.

And what policy should the UK government ditch?

As we all wrestle with the cost-of-living crisis I’m struggling with the lack of intervention in the energy market for those on the very lowest incomes, who already pay more for the energy they use. I’d like to see the government fast-track a new social energy tariff for those who need it most.

What upcoming UK policy or law are you most looking forward to?

A financial inclusion remit for the Financial Conduct Authority, as part of the Financial Services and Markets Bill. It would be the biggest systemic change in how the needs of the most financially excluded are addressed in the UK. Can you believe that the financial regulator has no requirement to even consider the needs of the excluded, never mind address them? We are working right now to try to make this a reality.

What piece of international government policy could the UK learn from?

The Community Reinvestment Act in the US. It strongly encourages banks and savings associations to meet the needs of low and moderate-income neighbourhoods. Many financial firms talk the talk, but this legislation makes the money talk.

If you could pass one law this year, what would it be?

It has to be the creation of an energy social tariff for low-income households. If not now, then when?

Read more:

Meet Britain’s new cost-of-living classes

How universal public services can end the cost-of-living crisis

The cost-of-living crisis risks a return of the wood burning stoves

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