How to affect policy change: engaging your political representatives

By Mailys Andre 

The step between acknowledging an issue and deciding to do something about it is significant and can be daunting. But it should not be.

Below are tips and recommendations for anyone and everyone to inform themselves about the do’s and don’ts of effective policy change. These notes were compiled from a recent Refugee Conference.

Key messages on Who does What:

1. Target the right people — With a specific problem start locally and work up. Talk to the agency delivering the service. Write to the responsible minister or Department. Use your Assembly Member to influence policy in Wales such as on health or education. Your MP can influence UK-wide asylum policy.

2. Think and do research — Before you lobby, search, for instance for Welsh Refugee Coalition papers, Welsh Refugee Council and City of Sanctuary evidence.

3. Form alliances — For issues that affect many people. Use existing policy positions.

4. Limit you request — To what that person is responsible for and build relationships. Be ready to influence several bodies to change their approach before you achieve a solution.

  • UK Government — Immigration, asylum decisions, legal aid, asylum support, repatriation, asylum seeker housing, human trafficking, resettlement programmes with local authorities, right to work, policy and legal framework, funding and contracting for migrant support, wider welfare and employment support.
  • Welsh Government — Health, education and skills services, economic development, poverty and social inclusion, local transport and housing (except asylum housing), policy, law, funding… Can influence local authorities and others.
  • Local authorities — Implementing resettlement programmes, education, environmental health, social services, homeless prevention, transport, other local services after grant asylum.
  • Members of Parliament — Can raise policy concerns on your behalf eg. with Ministers, or through commons debates, bill amendments, questions, early day motions or inquiries. They can potentially help raise profile of ‘hard’ cases or help change their party’s policy. The All Party parliamentary Group on Refugees including MPs and peers can press for change on specific issues (eg. unaccompanied children, human rights in different countries…).
  • Assembly Members — Can similarly raise profile of policy concerns on your behalf or through questions to Welsh Ministers, Send debates, amendments or inquiries and influence their party’s policy.

 

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Getting in touch: 

1. They work for you. MPs represent their constituents who have the power to vote them back in or boot them out, so they do care about what you think.

2. Find who your MP is — They often have a website where you can find out when they hold surgeries around the constituency and then get in touch to book an appointment. MPs will only deal with people who live in their constituency so make sure to include your address (postcode) when you get in touch.

3. Send an email. MPs get large volumes of emails every day on a range of issues so do your best to make yours clear and concise, clearly setting out what you’d life them to do. If you’re taking part in an ‘email your MP’ action, make sure to personalise your message to increase the likelihood of your email having an impact.

4. Get in touch via social media. Many but not all MPs are on social media. This can be an effective way to publicly press them on certain issues but be careful to ensure the tone is not too confrontational or to go down the ‘naming and shaming’ route as this can jeopardise a future relationship. Social media is a good way to highlight your MP’s support for a campaign and give them public recognition for their work.

‘If your issue is urgent, a phone call could allow them to take action sooner rather than waiting for a meeting.’

5. Pick up the phone. While you are unlikely to speak to your MP directly, you can book a meeting. It’s usually best to call the constituency number provided (rather than the Westminster number). If you have an issue you want to discuss, sending an email is often a good first step to allow your MP to consider the issue and their response. But if your issue is urgent, a phone call could allow them to take action sooner rather than waiting for a meeting.

6. Meet in person. MPs hold regular surgeries where constituents can come along and raise issues of importance to them. Don’t be intimidated by the prospect of a face to face meeting.

Do: 

  • Go to the right person. Your MP can push for change in the UK policy or take up a specific case. If the policy is devolved to Wales you should talk with your local or regional Assembly Member. You can also write directly to the responsible Minister.
  • Come prepared. Be sure to use arguments that make sense to them, not just you. Make sure you know about your MP including the issues they particularly care about. This should help you to understand their position on the issue you want to talk about and allows you to consider the messages which could resonate best.
  • Be clear on how they can help. Be clear on what you would like your representative to do about the issue you’ve brought to them.
  • Keep to time. MPs have very busy schedules so make sure to ask at the start of your meeting how much time you have and stick to it. Try and get your top messages across as quickly and simply as you can.

‘Offer them the ‘hero’ opportunity’.  

  • Offer them the ‘hero’ opportunity. Consider how backing your issue will play out for your MP in terms of impact on voters, important constituencies and local press. If you can frame your issue as an opportunity for your MP to step in and ‘save the day’ while gaining sature and visibility, they may be more likely to back you.
  • Bring the experiences of refugees and asylum-seekers. MPs don’t often hear from people who have been through the asylum system, and sometimes hearing from them directly can have the most impact. Consider how you can provide a platform for refugees ans asylum-seekers to ensure their voices are heard — whether by attending a meeting directly to share firsthand experiences or by using anonymised anecdotes ans stories.
  • Work with others. Consider bringing a group of people to your meeting who represent a diverse group of constituents. MPs are more likely to take notice if varied members of the community unite behind an issue.
  • Follow-up immediately. Send a follow-up email or letter after you’ve met summarising your key points and the action your MP agreed to take, as well as asking them to feedback on the outcome of their action.

Don’t: 

  • Assume knowledge. While MPs may come across confidently engaging on a number of issues, it is impossible for them to now them all in depth. Rather than launching into detailed policy discussions, think about how to introduce your issue clearly and simply.
  • Spam your MP. Personalising emails increases the chance that your MP will read and respond to your message — note that you are a constituent and make sure to add why the issue is important to you.
  • Ask for the impossible. Make your request as clear and practical as possible. If yours is a specific ask that can be carried out fairly quickly then use it as a stepping stone to your next ask. If you want to change a whole policy area consider the series of actions that can be taken and be prepared to find allies who will work on a sustained campaign.
  • Expect them to do all the work. Think about ways you can help your MP achieve your goal.They have limited resources to think about what you can offer to make supporting your issue even easier — e.g. offering to collate relevant research, draft key messages or questions to raise in Parliament, etc…
  • Give up if you hear no. If your MP disagrees with you, ask why and make sure to understand their motivations. Then you can go back to the drawing board, try to sport flaws in their arguments and consider how to build a more compelling case.

 

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