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Work Life: Helen Grant MP Minister For Victims

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Helen Grant, 51, is minister for victims and Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weald. She lives in Surrey with her husband Simon, a solicitor, and their sons Benjamin, 21, and Joel, 18

"My alarm usually goes off at about 6.30am. Although, sometimes I’ll get up as early as 4.45am to head into a TV news studio where I’ll be on the sofa on current affairs shows such as Daybreak and Sky News.

I became the first ever justice and victims minister in September 2012. I look after the interests of victims and witnesses of any crime, including domestic violence, sexual violence and rape. I’ll be called on to speak about a number of issues, from the opening of new rape support centres to government plans to stop bailiffs taking advantage of people.

I was a family lawyer for 23 years before I got into politics and saw a huge amount of domestic violence. I even had a woman turn up on my doorstep on Christmas Eve with a black eye, two carrier bags of clothes and three small children by her side. That wasn’t uncommon and it’s had a huge effect on my work now.

In the morning, I’ll take a bath, put on a Hobbs dress and high heels, have a bowl of cereal and watch the BBC news. Then I’ll get the train and the Tube into Westminster. I don’t work from a laptop or BlackBerry on my commute. Instead, I have what MPs call ‘the box’. This is essentially a briefcase filled with papers – drafts for proposals, letters to sign, documents to proofread – that we are given to work on most nights. It’s like homework, really.

I’ll arrive at the office at about 9am and catch up with my team on what needs to be done that day – we have to be prepared to respond to any news story or press announcement at a moment’s notice. If someone has been victim to a horrendous crime, it’s our job to reassure the public we are there to support them.

It’s important to me to be hands on, so I feel like I’m making a difference. I once helped out a young man who had been injured in Bali. He was knocked off his bike and left for dead, but couldn’t travel back to the UK because he’d forgotten to renew his travel insurance. I instigated a campaign through which members of the public raised enough funds to get him back here. It was particularly poignant because he reminded me of my own son who’s in the Royal Marines and often away from home.

My background has shaped my politics. I grew up on what you might call an infamous council estate in Carlisle with my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. So I’ve always had really strong female role models; my mother even set up the first women’s refuge in Carlisle.

You have to be quite thick-skinned to deal with Prime Minister’s Questions, which happens every Wednesday at 12pm. It’s a chance for MPs to pose any questions they like to David Cameron and it’s very noisy, confrontational and combative. There’s no doubt Westminster is still a very male environment. But we are making steps in the right direction – 21% of members of the House of Commons and 22% of the House of Lords is now female.

I’m the first black, female Tory minister but it’s not something I think about too much. I don’t think my sex or colour should matter, but some people find it interesting. If it breaks through one more glass ceiling, then that’s a good thing.

For lunch, I’ll grab a sandwich from the canteen before heading out into the community to places like rape support centres. It’s really important to me to make these visits. It’s where I feel I can make a difference – even if it’s just thanking someone who’s dedicating their time to helping others, or encouraging someone who has been through a harrowing event to keep on fighting. It’s very humbling and can be upsetting, but having been a family lawyer for so long I’m no longer surprised at what one individual is capable of doing to another.

Then I’ll head back to Westminster for the evening vote. On Mondays, this takes place at 10pm (it’s at 7pm on other weekdays) so I won’t get home until late. I eat lightly during the week – normally something like scrambled eggs – and watch some TV, like Grey’s Anatomy or The Borgias, with my husband before going to bed at about 11.45pm."

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