Volunteering organisations and the government should consider how to create a new form of "responsive volunteering" to avoid voluntary work becoming peripheral to the challenges faced by society, a new report by Citizens Advice suggests.
Giving Back Going Forwards: how volunteering should respond to changing needs, published on the charity’s website last week, says that successive governments have recognised the value of volunteering and notes Conservative commitments to increase volunteering levels by extending the National Citizen Service and giving nearly half the workforce three days of paid leave to volunteer. "Welcome as these measures are, in a society that prizes volunteering, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels," the report says.
"This paper argues for a new agenda for volunteering organisations and for government: responsive volunteering. Volunteering shouldn’t exist as peripheral to the challenges society faces – an ageing population, increased pressure on public services and labour market insecurity, all in an era of constrained public spending. If it is to be fit for modern life, volunteering must respond to the changing needs of volunteers and wider society."
The paper says that volunteering can address social challenges not only through the work done by volunteers, but also "by using volunteering as a mechanism to support employment, health and community life for our volunteers and society more widely".
It suggests that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills should consider how volunteering can boost productivity, that the Department of Health should "explore the preventative effects volunteering can have on people’s health", that the Home Office should look at volunteering "as a potential tool for community integration" and that the Department for Work and Pensions should consider how it can bring people closer to the labour market.
The Citizens Advice paper lists 10 challenges for the voluntary sector to consider in developing responsive volunteering, including enabling those leaving volunteering to transition into work, engaging individuals who face barriers to paid work, promoting volunteering as a tool to integrate people moving into new communities and considering the potential of online volunteering.
The report says that in 2013/14, more than 21,500 Citizens Advice volunteers in a variety of roles across 3,300 locations donated nearly seven million hours of service, which the charity says was worth £111m. This time last year, the charity put the number of volunteer hours at seven million, valuing this at £109m.
The report includes data from a survey of 1,500 Citizens Advice volunteers carried out in 2014. Findings included a strong link between age and considering volunteering as a way to boost employment prospects: 45 per cent of respondents aged 16 to 24 said that this was a reason for volunteering, but this fell to 31 per cent of those aged 35 to 44 and none of those aged over 65.