I have spent the most part of 8 years with the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust. First as a volunteer, then a member of staff and now as deputy chair of the board. Looking back, it’s been both heartening and dispiriting to watch the organisation grow at the same time as austerity and welfare reforms have hit its clients hardest.
I joined Z2K while studying law, hoping that I would gain some hands-on experience. This became a busy and rewarding 2 years where I did everything from representing clients at disability benefit appeals to spending a freezing cold day with the team outside Camberwell Green Magistrates’ Court to challenge council tax reforms. Through all of this, I saw the immense satisfaction of fighting for even the small victories. Getting somebody’s benefits reinstated so they could get the support they need to manage with a disability or getting the bailiffs off the back of an overwhelmed single mother made a difference day-to-day.
What I also learned is that the real challenge is much longer term. With the transition to Universal Credit widely reported to be increasing the number of people going to food banks, welfare reform is now more central to the news agenda than it was when I joined as a volunteer. Back then, council tax and housing benefit reforms preoccupied a relatively small group of specialist organisations. Now, the visibility of the effects of welfare reforms are impossible to ignore. As I said, heartening and dispiriting.
We need these issues to be at the forefront of our minds and in the media if we want to build a more stable future for everyone in the UK. We need organisations like Z2K that understand the complexity of the welfare and social security system and play a vital role in holding the government to account when things go wrong and helping contribute to policy consultations so things can go right.
While my work since working with Z2K has taken me into other fields including migration, prison reform and human rights, I’ve never lost sight of Z2K’s vital role in fighting to give a human face to systemic problems. I’m proud to now sit on the board, to have seen the organisation through changes in staff, management and offices, and to see it continue to grow.
What I hope, is that you will grow with us, and help make our vision a reality.
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