What exactly do we want from Westminster?

Last month I cautioned that we need to be careful what we wish for as we approach general election season and the manifesto calls increase in frequency and volume.

This month I want to continue the theme and ask: what exactly do we want the next Westminster government to do for volunteering?

As I pointed out last month, simply calling for moves to increase the number of people giving time carries significant risks. There is a danger that many more people respond to these calls; yet little time, investment or thought goes into how volunteer involving organisations (VIOs) will actually have the capacity to involve these additional people in meaningful ways. This gets even more dangerous if we end up with large-scale promotion of developments like microvolunteering, when they are still small-scale ways for people to actually give.

So what do we want?

Its hard to say. The very diversity of volunteering is its great strength but it also makes it hard to pin down a handful of clear asks. Indeed, some of what we see and hear around us at the moment could also be seen to be quite contradictory.

On the one hand we seem quite comfortable with general calls for more volunteers but then some voices are quite clear that actually this is only true in some cases. Some are quite vocal that certain ways of giving time – for example unpaid internships which meet many of the definitions of volunteering – are bad and should be banned. Others want to restrict volunteering to only those with pure, altruistic motives (if indeed such people exist).

Some people are very happy to promote the potential and value of volunteering in transforming public services or meeting social needs. But this is sometimes at odds with calls (occasionally by the same individuals or organisations) that volunteers shouldnt undercut paid jobs. Still volunteers cry foul at giving time to help deliver public services because they feel that if they dont volunteer they will lose those services.

Then we have conflicting views on priorities from different establishmentstakeholders:

   Volunteer Centres want more funding

   Volunteer Managers want more recognition

   Volunteers want better protection from having their contributions abused by staff, trustees, senior managers etc.

   VIOs dont seem to have any clear demands around volunteering, shouting instead for more money as if thats the only way theyll solve societys problems

The reality is that it may be impossible to pin down some commonly agreed calls from across the volunteering movement (which, dont forget, includes all sectors not just civil society). NCVO are trying to get some coherence but thats only going to be for their members.

Perhaps what we need is some debate amongst a wider group – and what better place to try to do this than amongst the readers of Third Sector?

So, my question to you is, What do you think the top three asks for volunteering should be of the next Westminster government?

Please comment below and lets see what consensus (if any) can be achieved.

2 Responses to “What exactly do we want from Westminster?”

  1. emma makarova

    I wonder if the ask of government might be the same as the ask we make of those who govern our own organisations? It’s not just money we want but we want our leaders to be able to articulate why and how volunteers are so vital so they are committed to a long term investment. Being able to say why volunteers are important probably starts with awareness raising. Personally I’ve found government departments such as DWP, Home Office have very little to virtually no understanding of what volunteering actually is- so how about a commitment from government that there is a regular forum between VIOs and government or even department heads attend a training day on volunteering? ! 🙂 once they all understand that volunteering is basically a good thing they can commit to reviewing all policies that restrict voluntary activity.

  2. Wally Harbert

    1.An end to public money being spent on extravagant top-down schemes to recruit volunteers.

    2. Support for volunteer projects in disadvantaged areas – spend some money now – do not wait for the next riots,

    3.Modest funding for research into the organisation of volunteer provision to identify ways of making organisations more volunteer-friendly.


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