The year in volunteering: 2012

The main features of the past twelve months included praise all round for the 80,000 volunteer Games Makers at the London Olympics

Games Makers
Games Makers

Volunteers enjoyed unprecedented amounts of coverage in 2012, thanks to the Games Makers at the Olympics.

An estimated 80,000 volunteers took part and their involvement provided one of the highlights of this summer's Games in London.  

The Game Makers received praise from politicians of all hues and the Cabinet Office was quick to try to build on the new-found enthusiasm for volunteering by giving £2m to the Join In Trust, a charity set up to build on the Olympics’ volunteering legacy, in August.

But the grant did not go down well with some Third Sector readers who questioned the logic of investing in a new initiative instead of making use of existing volunteering organisations.

The year began with the university graduate Cait Reilly taking legal action against Department for Work and Pensions for telling her to stop volunteering at the Pen Museum & Learning Centre in Birmingham and to work unpaid at a Poundland shop in order to continue receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance. She argued that making her work unpaid for Poundland or risk losing her benefits was tantamount to slave labour. In August, the High Court ruled that such government schemes were "not slave labour".

Charities themselves faced stern criticism for allowing people on government work programmes to work unpaid in their shops or risk losing their benefits. In February, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Scope and Shelter announced that they were either pulling out of offering such placements or reviewing their policies.

By the end of the year, Scope and at least three other major charities had decided to stop offering mandatory work placements to benefit claimants altogether.  

A report published in March showed that charities are increasingly relying on volunteers. Volunteers Count 2012, published by Agenda Consulting and the Association of Volunteer Managers, found that the number of charity volunteers rose by about 9 per cent in 2010/2011.

In May, Stephen Peck, operations director at the Scout Association, caused controversy for his comments at a conference about bad volunteers being "like a cancer". Many readers were critical of Peck’s choice of words but his comments led to a debate about how to manage difficult volunteers.

The government continued to forge ahead with its expansion of the National Citizen Service, the programme that offers 16 and 17-year-olds the chance to take part in projects including community work, physical challenges and residential placements over an eight-week period.

After publishing an evaluation of the programme in May, the Cabinet Office committed to spending up to £200m on the programme in 2013 and 2014.

A report published by Volunteering England, Navca and the Institute for Volunteering Research in September revealed the impact of council cuts on local volunteering organisations.

It found more than half of volunteering centres have had their local government funding cut this year, with centres facing an average cut of 25 per cent.

Volunteering England itself faced a tough year financially. In the year to March 2012, its income fell by more than 50 per cent – from £5.46m to £2.68m – as a result mainly of a loss of grant from the Cabinet Office. In June it announced plans to merge with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations: an agreement was reached in December and the merger comes into effect from 1 January.

The year ended with a Supreme Court ruling that volunteers do not have protection from discrimination in law and the news that the number of library volunteers has risen by almost half in the past four years.

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