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Volunteering in the Research & Campaigns team

sndVolunteering in the Research & Campaigns team

Earlier this year I found myself with one free day a week and decided that I wanted to use that time to contribute in some way. Beyond that, I had no idea where to start or how to go about it. Having always been interested in issues of social justice and fairness, I had a vague idea that social policy work would be a good place to start. Mentioning this to a lawyer friend, she recommended the CAB as she had heard that they did excellent campaigning work in her local area.

Not just advice

Perhaps like most people, I thought of the CAB as an exclusively advice based service so it hadn’t sprung to mind as a place to get stuck into larger policy issues. Sure enough though, a few minutes on the website and I could see that, as well as providing advice, the CAB aims to ‘improve the policies and practices that affect people’s lives.’ But what did this look like in practice? and how much of an impact could they really make? A week later I signed up as a Volunteer in the Research and Campaigns department to see if I could get some answers.

Communicating the message

During my induction, I learnt that the role of the Research and Campaigns team (formally Social Policy) is to use the vast amount of evidence collected from clients to guide campaigns for social change. This could be by collecting statistics through CAB’s national database, Petra, or by carrying out new research such as questionnaires and surveys. But it’s also about how information is communicated. Head of Policy Research at the CAB, Rachael Badger, states that “research is about presenting evidence in a way that makes MPs and councillors sit up and listen”.

Getting started

Day one and my first task was to get up to speed with some of the CAB’s recent national campaigns. This included the Payday Loans campaign, which called for payday lenders to be properly regulated and to stop irresponsible advertising; and the Make ESA Fit for Work campaign, which aimed to amend poorly designed rules making it difficult to determine who was fit for work and who wasn’t. I could see straight away the wide variety of methods that CAB campaigners were using to get their message across including the use of petitions, social media and encouraging clients to contact their MP. I was also impressed by their campaign successes, particularly their part in the introduction of new regulation for unscrupulous payday lenders.

Next, I was asked to start researching the shortage of affordable housing in Westminster, a hot topic in the borough, particularly as more low income residents are forced to move into the private rented sector. The CAB’s new Settled and safe: a renter’s right campaign is an effort to address problems caused by life in the private rented sector such as illegal eviction, harassment, lost deposits and struggles to secure the most basic repairs. Speaking to Case Workers in the office, I can see that these are issues that come up again and again in their meetings with clients.

My other roles include researching the policy positions of local councillors, updating the bureau twitter feed and shadowing gateway assessors at outreach centres. I can honestly say that no two days have been the same and I am constantly being kept on my toes with new challenges.

Understanding the local community

My time at the bureau so far has been a great way to get informed about the issues that affect my community. But working in Research and Campaigns is also teaching me how to go about fixing these problems. So far, so good.

For more information on the work of the Research and Campaigns team, watch this video:

Sam Nadel is a volunteer in the Research and Campaigns team at Westminster CAB. He studies International Relations at the Open University and works as a professional musician.

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