Government mustn't confuse volunteering with earning citizenship

A group of charities that proposed a national holiday for community action has hit back at the Government's alternative plan for a bank holiday that would involve migrants volunteering to earn British citizenship.

The NCVO, CSV, Volunteering England and Navca last month joined forces with the TUC to write to Prime Minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown to propose a national holiday in October that would serve as a volunteering or community service day.

But this week communities secretary Ruth Kelly and immigration minister Liam Byrne have proposed their own bank holiday that would act as a national citizenship day where migrants would be encouraged to volunteer, take English language classes and become involved in their communities as a means to British citizenship.

Charities have criticised the change of focus. Neil Cleeveley of Navca said a community-based day would be much more inclusive and increase the number of volunteers. “I think the government’s notion is almost compulsory volunteering,” he said. “On the other hand, a community day would encourage community activity. They could be migrants, indigenous people – everybody.”

Liz Atkins, director of public policy at NCVO, said, “Civic and voluntary work should not be promoted simply as an incentive to become eligible for British citizenship.” She added that a “community day” would make a much bigger impact on British society by encouraging volunteering instead of creating an inducement. “Voluntary work by its definition is voluntary.”

The WRVS, which was not part of the group of charities that proposed a community day holiday, also criticised the Government’s plans. A spokeswoman said community interaction and long-term involvement were the best ways to use the proposed bank holiday. “A Britain Day focused on building closer-knit communities could mean more support for older people to stay independent and enjoy life more,” she said.

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