Rob Jackson: Musings on Brexit and volunteering

Our columnist ruminates on the implications of leaving the EU for volunteers and volunteer managers

Rob Jackson
Rob Jackson

Summer is here and I hope you are managing to find some time to rest, relax and reflect. It seems that won’t be the case for David Davis MP and his team as they plough ahead with negotiations for Brexit from the EU. But what could all of this mean for volunteering?

The first and perhaps most obvious implication concerns restrictions on volunteering by non-UK nationals. As it stands, any EU citizen can volunteer here in the UK. Come March 2019 that might no longer be the case.

We don’t know yet what the arrangements post-Brexit will be. But if they were to fall in line with existing arrangements for non-EU nationals, we might see visa requirements and restrictions introduced. This could add to the bureaucratic burden on volunteer managers, especially if risk-averse HR departments insist on all volunteers proving their right-to-volunteer status when recruited. This is happening already in some organisations just in case non-EU nationals volunteer, so expect the workload and red tape to increase post-Brexit.

Another possible implication for volunteering is the effect Brexit might have on the national labour market. Karl Wilding of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations recently shared this interesting article with me. The author sets out the possible effects of Brexit on the national workforce, highlighting a possible shortage of workers, a potential decline in the proportion of the population in work to 49 per cent (also due, in part, to our ageing population) and the risk of some businesses failing because of a lack of paid staff.

This raises a number of questions for volunteering:

  • If we end up short of people to do the paid work that needs doing in society, will people have a lot less time to volunteer?
  • If discretionary leisure time becomes more precious, will we have to work much harder to convince people to spend some of that volunteering?
  • Could employer-supported volunteering become more important if we increasingly rely on people giving time during their working days?
  • Will employers see this the same way, or will they tighten ESV restrictions to keep people at work because of labour shortages?
  • If older people have to stay in work longer to shore up a declining workforce, what impact could that have on charities that rely on this demographic to volunteer?
  • If these possible labour shortages affect volunteer-involving organisations, will boards and management teams need to rethink the roles of paid staff and volunteers?

Predicting the future is an imprecise act at the best of times. It’s even harder to do it in our unpredictable world, and with the fog of uncertainty over Brexit a long way from lifting. But we must consider the possibilities now so we can prepare for whatever the future throws at us.

What do you think? What have I missed? Do you agree with what I’ve mentioned?

Rob Jackson is a volunteering consultant

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