The year in volunteering: 2013

The main developments of the past twelve months included the post-Olympic momentum, a landmark court case over compulsory volunteering and work placements, and Volunteering England becoming part of the NCVO

After the major boost given to volunteering by the Olympics in 2012, the big question was whether the momentum could be maintained in 2013.

Various studies throughout the year seemed to conclude that it could, including the government’s Community Life survey for 2012/13, which found that 49 per cent of adults carried out some form of volunteering at least once a month – an eight percentage point increase since 2010/11. A volunteering study published by the insurance company Zurich in August concluded that the Olympics had "sparked the spirits of local communities".

It was not all good news for volunteering, though. The year began with Volunteering England losing its identity after it formally became part of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations on 1 January after its income dropped by almost half following the loss of several large grants.

Others volunteering organisations also felt the funding squeeze. Vinspired, the youth volunteering initiative created by the Labour government, reported a 90 per cent drop in income from £54.3m to £5.3m for 2012. The income of the national volunteering charity TimeBank fell by 55 per cent in 2011/12 after the charity lost government funding worth £500,000.

In March the online youth charity YouthNet said it wanted to transfer responsibility for Do-it, the government-backed volunteering website, to a new owner. A consortium led by the volunteering social networking site Ivo.org was awarded the service and formally took it over in December.

Some money was still available for volunteering. In February, the Cabinet Office said it would invest about £36m over the next two years in the Centre for Social Action to distribute to organisations that support volunteering and social action. Join In, the Olympic legacy charity, also received £1.5m from the Big Lottery Fund to encourage more people to volunteer in the communities and to stage an event at the Olympic Park in July to encourage Games Makers and London Ambassadors to be more active in their communities. Then in November, the Office for Civil Society made £6m available through the Youth Social Action Fund to encourage young people to volunteer in their local areas.

Compulsory volunteering and work placements were also back in the headlines in 2013. In February, a museum volunteer who had been told she had to work unpaid at Poundland or face losing her benefits won her case at the Court of Appeal. Cait Reilly, a volunteer at the Pen Museum in Birmingham, had been told to stop volunteering and complete unpaid work experience at Poundland as part of back-to-work training or she would lose her Jobseeker’s Allowance. The government appealed against the ruling, but the Supreme Court backed Reilly in October.

But that didn’t stop the government pursuing similar initiatives. In October, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester that long-term unemployed adults could be made to undertake community work placements or risk losing their benefits under its Help to Work scheme, although Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of Acevo, said that charities should be paid for their involvement. Then in the Autumn Statement at the start of December, the Chancellor said that long-term unemployed young adults could lose their benefits if they failed to do work placements with community groups

It was also the year that 'micro-volunteering' came of age. A study published by the NCVO in November found that increasing numbers charities were encouraging volunteers to participate in short, one-off activities, largely using mobile devices. But the authors added that more charities needed to consider making such opportunities available.

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