The Labour Party has been looking into how it could tighten up the law around internships to make it easier to spot when charities are "stepping over the line", shadow civil society minister Lisa Nandy has said.
Nandy also said that the party, if elected to government next year, would not scrap the National Citizen Service.
Speaking to Third Sector at UK Youth’s Creative Collisions conference at the Olympic Park in London yesterday, Nandy said that volunteering and issues surrounding the government’s controversial Help to Work scheme, which closed in September, were a common theme coming out of the party’s consultation with the charity sector.
"We’ve been looking at whether we could tighten up the law to make clearer the difference between volunteering, internships and paid work – because internships aren’t even defined in the law at the moment," she said.
"We’re also looking at what we could do so that the people who are working in the sector have much more clarity about what is and isn’t acceptable, and when charities are stepping over the line."
Nandy acknowledged that the TUC and various sector organisations, including the Museums Association, had come up with guidelines about internships and volunteering, but she said these were confusing.
She said that one problem with the Help to Work scheme was participants being taken off existing volunteering placements in order to go and work for free at places that were less suitable for them.
To help tackle this, she said, Labour had had conversations with third sector organisations about finding a way to recognise more of their volunteer placements as part of the government’s back-to-work schemes.
"There are mixed views about that," she said. "Volunteering as a whole in the sector is more controversial than we’d realised and than the public debate reflects."
She said that many front-line charity workers had contacted the party saying they were worried that their pay and conditions would deteriorate because of the increasing use of volunteers for tasks that paid staff might have done in the past.
Nandy said that, if elected next year, Labour would retain the National Citizen Service. In 2011, she had expressed concern in parliament about the government’s decision to replace youth services with the eight-week programme, which is funded by the Cabinet Office, saying that the NCS did not constitute a strategic vision for young people.
Rob Wilson, the new Minister for Civil Society, also spoke about volunteering and the NCS at a sector event on Wednesday. In a speech at the Charity Retail Association’s annual general meeting in London, Wilson said he would like to increase the number of young people taking part in the NCS and volunteering in charity shops. Young people represented a third of all charity shop volunteers, said Wilson.
Wilson – who has attended the opening of Christian Action and Sue Ryder shops in his constituency of Reading East – said he agreed with the recommendation made by the think tank Demos that statutory services needed to better promote volunteering in charity retail environments.