Time for a volunteering minister, says report

The Government should make a cabinet minister responsible for volunteering and plough an extra £6m into encouraging people to take part, according to the Commission on the Future of Volunteering.

The commission’s final report, Manifesto for Change, claims that the Government could do much more to ensure that volunteering becomes “part of the DNA of our society” and throws down the gauntlet by making a series of far-reaching recommendations. It also suggests some actions that the sector should take.

The report, published today, is based on in-depth interviews with more than 1,000 people. It says that there is “a very large amount of criticism” about the Government’s existing initiatives to promote volunteering.

Respondents complained of insufficient planning and lack of communication between government departments and continuity between initiatives. Concerns were also raised about inadequate consultation, unrealistic funding timescales, short-termism and too much emphasis on targets.

The report suggests that a cabinet minister responsible for volunteering should have a brief across all departments. It also urges the Government to set up a working group with volunteering agencies “as a matter of urgency” to remove barriers to volunteering such as unnecessary Criminal Records Bureau checks. The report says: “Some solutions will require legislative action.”

More funding

Other recommendations aimed squarely at the Government include the creation of a £1m Access to Volunteering Fund. This would support people such as carers who need to pay for cover to enable them to volunteer, and would cover costs incurred by organisations such as paying for adjustments to accommodate disabled volunteers.

A Volunteering Matched Fund of £5m per year, also provided by government, should be provided for partnerships between local infrastructure organisations and local authorities to support strategic development, the report says.

Setting an example

The commission calls on the Government to lead by example and promote volunteering by setting targets for the level of volunteering by civil servants.

It says the Government should also actively promote and support a coherent approach to accreditation and training for volunteers and ensure that national standards for volunteer training are established.

“We welcome the report; it’s important,” said a spokeswoman for the Office of the Third Sector. “We will respond comprehensively in February.”

Sector must act

The commission doesn’t reserve its criticism solely for the Government; it is also scathing of some sector practices. The report says the sector lets itself down when it comes to diversity. It says that disabled people, those with mental health problems and asylum seekers all encounter difficulties when trying to volunteer.

Simply telling these groups that they are welcome to volunteer is not enough, the report claims. Charities must take steps to overcome the obstacles that prevent them from volunteering, such as transport.

Like the Government, the voluntary sector must also lead by example by promoting and assisting volunteering among paid employees, the commission advises.

The initial responses to Manifesto for Change from charities has so far been positive. Justin Davis Smith, the chief executive of Volunteering England, agreed that the sector had some work to do.

“We acknowledge the need to get our own house in order and will not shy away from the challenges of modernisation if we are to provide an environment in which volunteering can truly thrive,” he said.

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