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Voluntary inactivity

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Voluntary inactivity

Governance | Ian Allsop | 22 Aug 2008

Rather than pouring yet more millions into volunteering schemes, maybe the government should tackle the apathy pervading society by trying to restore public trust in authorities, says Ian Allsop.

Once again figures have been released indicating that despite the best efforts and intentions of the government, its high-profile bankrolling of volunteering initiatives has achieved, well, not very much.

If the government’s own volunteering figures are correct (), news of a 1 per cent improvement in volunteering levels since 2001 should be a strident wake-up call, and prompt a review of its volunteering strategy.

It has already committed £117m to leading volunteering charity v over the  next three years, and there are plenty of smaller funds available for other schemes too. But perhaps that is the problem – there has been a lot of noise but it has all got rather jumbled. If the investment in v doesn’t pay off it will be regarded more as a public relations vanity project of Gordon Brown, rather than a great idea that kick-started a generation of disaffected youngsters into making a difference.

There are some great examples of volunteering projects, particularly for the young. Take, for example, the British Red Cross retail projects mentioned in this year’s Charity Shops Survey. And, as some have pointed out, it’s also a question of quality not quantity. If those that are volunteering are getting more out of it and are giving more hours, then all is not lost.

Certainly more could be done to promote volunteering as a positive benefit for the long-term unemployed, both as a way of boosting their own esteem and job prospects, and as a way of contributing to society.

But you can lead a horse to water and all that and the fact is, if people aren’t motivated to volunteer, no amount of asking or pushing will prompt them to do so. And besides, it’s not really volunteering then.

To summarise a complex issue simplistically, perhaps the government should concentrate first on the engaged citizen and community participation agenda to tackle the general apathy pervading society – caused in no small measure by public distrust of authorities. Maybe then the volunteering figures will rise of their own accord.

Ian Allsop is the editor of Charity Finance

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