Why do you think it has been so hard for the beauty industry to get recognised by Government during the pandemic?
“What has struck me, and this is no way a criticism, but there have been a lot of very disparate voices [in the industry] so it’s very difficult to determine who are the authoritative, informed voices.
“There are good arguments to be made in favour of standards and a proper body regulating the industry, which give you all somebody to turn to in a crisis who can speak up with an authoritative voice on behalf of the people.
“There are a lot of great associations and there are also different tiers [to the industry]. There’s the whole area of medical aesthetics and injectables and whether they should be delivered only by medics. Although, I’ve also heard people in the aesthetic sector say [about other treatments], ‘that’s just beauty’, to which I replied, ‘There’s no such thing as ‘just beauty’. This is where the bulk of people are employed, where the bulk of the revenue is, and a part of the industry that is interacting with so many people every single day and doing things like tackling loneliness.
“It’s about enabling people to feel better about themselves. It builds confidence and self-esteem and it’s important now to get these messages out there that this isn’t ‘just beauty’; this isn’t something trivial.”
Do you think the reason the industry was viewed as not “Covid-secure” as lockdown eased is because there’s no governing body to prove its safety?
“I think that’s part of it. I think there was massive lack of understanding about how the procedures are carried out and what measures would be in place anyway.
“There are some salons that have invested enormously in PPE and others who have said, ‘well, no, not really because this is what we had anyway. This is what we do on a daily basis, so while we may have upgraded and changed a bit and done all of those important but slightly disappointing things, like remove waiting rooms, [we] were already a very hygienic, sterile environment’.
“There was no understanding about that so I do think things will have to change and it would be really beneficial to the industry as a whole if there was one united voice speaking on your behalf.
“I recognise that’s really difficult and probably really controversial and hard to establish, but this crisis has demonstrated the power of having one voice speaking for you.”
Could a silver lining in all this be that the Government is beginning to recognise the complexity of the sector, and that we may be one step closer to regulation?
“I famously sat on a bill committee for the Deregulation Bill, where we had a bonfire of red tape, and at the same time I had it pointed out to me by an opposition MP that I had been calling for regulation for the hair industry, so there are swings and roundabouts to it. Nobody likes bureaucracy or red tape and I’m not sure what sort of space the Government is in when it comes to me leaping up and down and saying mandatory regulation is the way forward.
“I think it would be helpful, I think it might come to that, but I also think there’s a piece of work to do, and as the newest recruit to the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Beauty, Aesthetics and Wellbeing I need to speak [to them first], but I can see that that may well be the direction of travel.”
What can we do, moving forward, to keep beauty being recognised by Government?
“I think there is a lot of work to be done around keeping your profile up; I think that really matters. People have been on a massive learning curve, particularly in parliament, but also more widely in the general public. For example, an uneducated woman who told me on Twitter that the beauty industry is based on vanity really copped it - not just from me but from a whole range of people, saying, ‘no, this is a wellbeing service’.
“I also think there is a lot of work to be done around regulation and I certainly am looking forward to getting stuck into the APPG to discuss what the best ways of moving forward are.
“And I’ve made some lifelong friends over recent weeks. People have been sharing really moving stories, but with so much hope and so much determination. So, from my perspective - and I have another four years to serve as chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee - I’m never going to forget this experience and the conversations with people that thought that they had been forgotten, that they didn’t have a voice and that they were being trivialised and marginalised.
“If I have one message to the industry it’s that you do have a voice; you have a really powerful voice. You are large in number, you are big in contribution to GDP and you are massive in terms of contribution to wellbeing. I think you guys have found a voice, so keep using it.”
What can salon owners do to continue fighting their corner?
“I know that MPs are not always the flavour of the month and you may not like the local one that you have but make contact with them, and do it routinely. If there’s something that affects your industry that you see in the press then contact your member of parliament and let them have your opinion.
“It’s really easy for us to make out that we know everything that’s going on in our constituencies but we don’t and I found the conversations that I’ve had with women over the past few weeks have been really incredibly enlightening.
“I found out a great deal more about your industry and I certainly hope that I can carry on being a voice to the Government to say ‘look, hang on a moment, I didn’t think you treated this industry fairly back in July. It’s October now, what are you doing to help?’.”