Navca and Children England speak out against compulsory volunteering

28 Apr 2014 News

Navca is one of a number of charities to state its opposition to government-sanctioned Community Work Placements which begin today.

Navca is one of a number of charities to state its opposition to government-sanctioned Community Work Placements which begin today.

Alongside Oxfam and umbrella body Children England, Navca has pledged its support for the Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign.

The charities and organisations that have pledged their support against workfare and to the Keep Volunteering Voluntary campaign have agreed to not participate in government workfare schemes, believing that forcing unemployed people to carry out unpaid work or face benefit sanctions can cause “hardship and destitution”. 

They say they are committed to the principle that people who volunteer give their time freely and without coercion and object to the mandatory work placements run by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Participants involved in the Help to Work scheme could have to attend the Jobcentre every day and those who lack work experience may be asked to undertake a community work placement. These will last for up to six months for 30 hours a week.

Those who fail to participate in the scheme will face potential sanctions that could involve them having their benefits cut.

Joe Irvin, chief executive of Navca, said: “People volunteer for a whole host of reasons and Navca members are there to support them in whatever activity they choose. But it ceases to be volunteering when people have no choice.

“Our sector has a proud record of supporting unemployed people into work through volunteering and this latest DWP scheme undermines that. That is why Navca is opposed to any form of compulsory unpaid ‘voluntary’ work in return for benefits. And it is why we have offered our support to the ‘Keep Volunteering Voluntary’ campaign.”

Oxfam have also signed the agreement against the Help to Work schemes. Daniel O’Driscall, head of volunteering at the charity, said: “These schemes involve forced volunteering, which is not only an oxymoron, but undermines people’s belief in the enormous value of genuine voluntary work.

“Oxfam does not offer placements for participants in the mandatory work activity, or compulsory elements of ‘work for your benefits’ schemes. These schemes impact unfairly on the support people receive, and so are incompatible with our goal of reducing poverty in the UK.

NCVO says "carefully consider involvement"

Justin Davis Smith, director of volunteering and development at NCVO, said: “Volunteering has the potential to transform people’s employment prospects – but clearly it must be freely entered into.

“NCVO sought and received assurances from DWP last year that mandated Community Work Placements, and any other sanctions-backed placements, will not be conflated with volunteering. Nevertheless, we have suggested that charities consider carefully whether to be involved.

“Our report on volunteering and employment earlier this year identified a number of issues with the existing knowledge of JobCentre Plus staff regarding volunteering and benefits and we have highlighted these to the DWP”

DWP: placements provide skills and experience

A spokesperson from the DWP said: “Volunteers provide a very valuable contribution to society - however the placements we are providing will help long-term unemployed claimants get the skills and experience they need to get back into work.

"Community Work Placements are designed for people whose lack of experience of work is holding them back from getting a job, and many community-based organisations recognise the benefits it has on their organisation, the local community, and the jobseeker."

Other organisations that have signed the Keep Volunteering Voluntary agreement include; Anti-Slavery International, Jubilee Debt Campaign and the Student Christian Movement.

Campaign group Boycott Welfare launched a week of campaigning against charities involved in workfare schemes at the end of last month. It made a surprise visit to the London headquarters of YMCA to campaign against their use of mandatory work placements.

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