Jan van Zanen completed his law studies at the VU University Amsterdam and at Cornell University Law School in Ithaca, New York, USA. He did his military service as an officer at the Dutch Royal Air Force, and subsequently filled the position of legal and executive secretary for the National Employer’s Association. He was a member, on behalf of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), of the Municipal Council of Utrecht between 1990 and 2002. He was served as Alderman of Financial and Economic Affairs, Public Space and Monuments from 1998for seven years. From 2003-2008, he was national chairman of the VVD. Mr Van Zanen was Mayor of Amstelveen between 2005 and 2013. Since January 1st 2014 he has been Mayor of Utrecht, and since June 3rd 2015, chairman of the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG).
A new poverty action plan has been adopted in Utrecht. which aims for the participation of all. Despite a low income, people should be able to fully participate in society, and children should be able to develop their talents. In addition, the plan focuses on the prevention of poverty and debt, and on providing support in order to reduce the number of people who cannot financially support themselves. It focuses on self-reliance, strength, and enhancing people’s ability to be financially self-sufficient.
Life events: In order to make this possible, the plan focuses on so-called ‘life events’ that directly and heavily impact someone’s financial situation, such as a divorce or job dismissal. Often these events spark financial problems, and for people with low-incomes, it is even more difficult to address such situations, often resulting in (even more) debt. A twofold approach is taken:
– Offering early support: U Central (an Utrecht welfare organisation ) offers a workshop focused on a life event and its financial consequences. People get practical information and suggestions on how to cope.
– A EUR 400 budget to cover incidental costs. This is meant as immediate support to get through the initial event.
This approach has been implemented with local partners. For example, lawyers, social workers, the Employee Insurance Agency (UWV), can signal that this type of life event occurring.
During the stabilization phase, tackling underlying problems is key. “You first need to solve the underlying issues. Only if someone’s situation is more or less stable and he or she oversees the financial situation does it makes sense to start debt relief counselling”
Mismatch: Often, there is a mismatch between the government system and the reality of target groups. For this reason Utrecht has a customisable approach. The City has made this possible by reducing the amount of rules and regulations. Also, local poverty arrangements must be simple and accessible for those who need them. An example of a local poverty arrangement is the U-pass which provides the opportunity to participate in sport and cultural activities.
Above all, cooperation is key. Knowledge, expertise and the efforts of partners and stakeholders in the city, as well as involving target groups (as experts) can make a difference. Together, we make Utrecht!