NCVO’s director of public policy and volunteering has questioned the value of a government initiative to make it easier for young people to volunteer full time.
Karl Wilding was speaking at a panel discussion about full-time social action organised by the Centre for Social Justice, when he said that there were still some big questions to be answered by advocates of full-time volunteering and suggested government resource might be better used elsewhere.
“Volunteering is absolutely integral to British society - 14 million people volunteer for clubs, societies, charities or public sector bodies,” he said.
But he said the evidence is that the way people choose to volunteer is “shifting” from longer hours to “shorter, more episodic and disjointed bits of time”.
“So is this going against the grain?” he asked.
Could hinder social mobility
Wilding said he was concerned that the full-time volunteering opportunities would only be available to those with the resource to volunteer for six months to a year, which “might be making social mobility worse”.
He added that by supporting, or encouraging, more full-time volunteers charities could “open ourselves up to the charge” that they are “exploiting volunteers”.
Government could be doing other things
Wilding also stressed that there are currently only 1,000 full-time volunteers and suggesting that there were other things the government could usefully do to make it easier to volunteer.
The Office for Civil Society has appointed a panel to carry out a review of full-time social action and is expected to report back to the minister for civil society by the end of the year.
But Wilding asked whether the time might be spent “doing something about the other barriers”.
He suggested the government should make it easier for people claiming job seeker's allowance to be able to volunteer.
“We have also got to talk just as much about the demand for volunteers,” Wilding added, giving the example that some NHS trusts were still reluctant to involve more volunteers.
He also highlighted that there are already a lot of volunteering schemes and said it is “questionable whether it has to be full time”.
“For this review to work I think we need to answer those questions,” he said.
‘Voluntary sector lacks imagination’
In response James Probert, director of impact & design at City Year UK, which has been piloting full-time volunteering programmes and campaigning for a new legal status for full-time volunteers, said that the reason there were so few at the moment was because it is really difficult to volunteer full-time in the UK.
He highlighted that other developed countries, such as Germany, France and the United States already offer it as a “wider offer for young people” and that they preferred the term “service” and that there is demand from people who have completed National Citizen Service, a four-week programme, for something longer.
He also said that there was evidence that it adds “extra capacity in the voluntary sector”.
“We don’t have a legal status - that is a real issue,” he said. As it means young people are classed as NEET (not in education employment or training) if they volunteer and are also not eligible for national insurance contributions.
“The constraints make it very difficult,” he said.
He said the review was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity and was concerned about a “lack of imagination in the non-profit sector”.
Atika Sundus, who had taken part in the City Year programme, was also on the panel and said that by being classified as NEET she felt it “discredits” what she was doing.
She also said that by being full-time in a school she was able to build a strong relationship with young people because she “wasn’t just dipping in and out”.