Government 'should pay charities to take on volunteers through Help to Work'

Sir Stephen Bubb of Acevo warns that charities will have reservations about the newly announced programme that will target the long-term unemployed

Sir Stephen Bubb
Sir Stephen Bubb

Sir Stephen Bubb, head of the charity chief executives body Acevo, has said the government must provide for charities if it expects them to provide places through the new Help to Work scheme.

George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester yesterday that the government would introduce the scheme that applies to people who have been unemployed for three years or more.

People on the scheme will either have to attend daily signings at their local job centres until they find work, take part in intensive support sessions to address literacy or numeracy problems or participate in "community work placements", which could involve local community groups or charities. If they do not participate, they will face losing their benefits.

In response to Osborne’s announcement, Bubb said that charities had long led the way in supporting unemployed people back into work.

"However, if the government expects charities to take on many more volunteers through the Help to Work scheme, those places will need to be funded," he said.

"Governments tend to think of volunteering as without cost, but volunteers need to be supervised, managed and trained – and that costs money."

Bubb also warned that many charities would have strong reservations about accepting volunteers on mandatory placements. "Volunteers should be motivated by passion, not by the threat of lost benefits," he said.

Some charities have withdrawn over the past year from providing so-called ‘workfare’ placements, which involve jobseekers being compelled to complete unpaid work placements or lose their benefits.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations said that it had asked the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions for more information on the scheme.

In a statement, the NCVO said it would be holding discussions with charities involved in the Work Programme and welfare reforms to talk about the new scheme. It said many of its members would also have concerns "about elements of the scheme, including the sanctions involved".

"Charities are well placed to provide specialist support for people furthest from the labour market and will need to be consulted on the best approach to take," the statement said.

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