A legal status for full-time volunteering has been provisionally estimated at anywhere between £28m and £119m, a report commissioned by City Year UK has shown.
City Year UK, which has been calling for a full-time volunteers to have a legal status, commissioned Pro Bono Economics to carry out the report The Economic Value of Full-Time Volunteering, which was published yesterday. It found that encouraging 10,000 young people to volunteer full-time for a year could earn lead to a return of between £1.20 and £1.60 for every government pound invested.
The campaign for government to introduce a legal definition of full-time volunteering is being led by City Year UK, and has been given the backing of several volunteering charities, including Scouts, Girlguiding and the NCS Trust, as well as former work and pensions’ secretary Lord David Blunkett.
Pro Bono Economics was asked to produce an independent report investigating the potential economic benefits of a full-time volunteering programme for young people.
However, concerns have also been raised in the sector about the actual benefits the legal status would gain, and concerns that it could lead to the exploitation of volunteers taking part.
City Year’s report uses a cost-benefit analysis to calculate the benefits to the economy which looks at improved employment and earnings potential; improved skills, empowerment and self-confidence; improved community/social integration, increase in civil/political engagement; improved wellbeing; service delivery benefits; and fiscal benefits.
It says that the net return takes into account the cost of training, recruiting and providing expenses for volunteers, which is estimates to be at £13,500 per volunteer.
It says that this cost would be met by charities who engage full-time volunteers, such as City Year UK, and their funders. The report also proposes a £3,000 contribution from the government, per volunteer. It states that a similar model is used in the USA by AmeriCorps, and Service Civique in France. City Year UK’s report draws on several international comparisons where volunteering is underpinned and supported by a legal framework.
Sophie Livingstone, chief executive of City Year UK, said: “This report further proves the benefit to the government of a structured full-time volunteering programme. We have long known that the economic value far outweighs the costs.
“I’m delighted that Lord Blunkett is joining us to call on the government to introduce a programme. The case is clear; full-time volunteering benefits everyone, from the participants, to public services and the overall economy.”
The report says that the economic case for full-time volunteering is based on a range of benefits “including the value of the services delivered by the volunteer, the benefits to the volunteer and wider societal benefits”.
Fiscal benefits include tax taken from increased employment and higher earnings for those in employment and reduced payment of benefits, both net of transfers, and the reduced costs in health and crime.
The report says that “given gaps in the evidence base, it is not possible to produce a fully quantified cost-benefit analysis at this stage; the economic case relies on a mix of both quantitative and qualitative evidence”.
The figures are also based on the assumption of increased participation of full-time volunteering “if a financial stipend is provided”, the target is of 10,000 full-time volunteers per annum. It is currently estimated that there are only 1,000 full-time volunteers in the UK.
It states that there are a number of “key challenges for this analysis on the economic value of full-time volunteering”.
It said that one of the most significant challenges “relate to the gaps in evidence that can make it difficult to link between various outcomes and the impacts/benefit to be valued”. The report said that this may highlight a “need to develop pilot programmes of full-time volunteering that can be evaluated over the longer term”.
The scenario analysis also calculates the impact on volunteer benefits of employment and earning gains, but says there is a “question of whether potential benefits to the individual lead to incremental gain to society rather than substitution”, which would mean the marginal benefit from volunteering would be much lower. It gave the example of the volunteer simply replace someone who would have done that job.
It states that as well as economic benefits, there are also wider societal benefits in education, health and social care.
The report coincides with the government-commissioned Youth Full Time Social Action Review, which is looking into the merits of a legal status for full-time volunteers and how to increase the number of programmes and participants. It is due to release its recommendations in December.
Concerns over misuse of legal status
Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, raised concerns earlier this week that this legal status could be used by “unscrupulous people” to get round the minimum wage.
In response to his comments, Livingstone said: “It is really important that full time volunteers are protected from unscrupulous organisations seeking to exploit them. At the minute, it's easy for organisations to do so, which is why we are calling for a legal status which would put an end to the blurring and lack of clarity that thrives under the current system.
"We also think it's really important to clearly define full-time volunteering and how this differs from employment. This would provide increased scrutiny and quality assurance over existing and new schemes as well as measures aimed at better supporting full-time volunteers."