Analysis: Volunteer Rights Inquiry

Should there be a complaints commissioner? It's one suggestion to emerge from the inquiry's interim findings last week. Kaye Wiggins reports

Volunteers: contributed to inquiry
Volunteers: contributed to inquiry

The Volunteer Rights Inquiry's interim report, published last week, makes for grim reading. Anyone flicking through it could be forgiven for thinking bullying, intimidation and verbal abuse were endemic to volunteering.

It is the first time such an extensive examination of the experiences of volunteers has been carried out, and the report sheds light on a corner of the sector that is rarely scrutinised.

Seventy-two people responded to the inquiry, and two-thirds of them reported problems. They had volunteered at charities across the sector, covering areas such as the environment, disability, health and hospices.

Their responses included allegations of sexual harassment, complaints about a lack of compassion and accusations that 'kangaroo courts' had been held to address grievances.

The sample is obviously skewed: few of the thousands of contented volunteers would have attended the inquiry's evidence-gathering sessions. But there have been rumblings of discontent from some volunteers for some time, and a few high-profile cases of volunteers struggling to gain redress for their complaints.

The lack of consensus about a solution is the main problem. One of the respondents said: "I firmly believe that a national body should be set up, financed and supported by the government, in order to legislate and oversee all organisations which engage volunteers." But another told the inquiry the government should "stop interfering with unnecessary laws and regulations".

This is perhaps why Volunteering England has stopped short of endorsing any particular solution to the range of problems it has brought to light, but has mentioned ideas including a volunteer complaints commissioner. But if the report prompts more volunteers to come forward with horror stories, it might have to take a stronger stance soon.

TALES OF VOLUNTEER WOE

"I have been left physically and mentally in pieces"
"I was continually harassed, bullied and worn down"
"I was ill for two years following my experience"
"Any attempt to discuss was met with blanket contempt"

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