Four highlights from NCVO’s general election manifesto

Four highlights from NCVO’s general election manifesto

Campaigning is now well underway for the UK General Election on 8 June. NCVO have wasted no time in issuing their election manifesto, “Charities and volunteering make Britain great”, and I want to quickly look at four things I was pleased to see them highlight.

1/ An access to volunteering fund

Back when I worked for Volunteering England (2005-2011) we were funded by the Office of Civil Society to pilot an Access to Volunteering Scheme. This provided funding to help organisations meet the costs of opening up their volunteering opportunities to people with disabilities.

Sadly the change of government in 2010 killed off the short-lived pilot. Calls were made for it’s revival ahead of the 2015 general election but went unheeded. So I’m really please to see NCVO officially calling for Access to Volunteering to return.

“Providing a support fund to address barriers to volunteering for people with disabilities. This could make volunteering accessible to more people, helping with costs such as travel or adaptations to buildings or equipment.”

2/ Strengthening volunteer development and management

NCVO have really been upping their game on volunteering over the past few months, starting with Sir Stuart’s new year letter to the sector. These efforts have built upon the excellent work of the small volunteering team at NCVO over recent years, dedicated individuals who have worked hard to support volunteerism.

I am really pleased to see this work continue in the manifesto with a call to strengthen volunteer management. For too long, volunteer management and it’s role in enabling effective and rewarding volunteering experiences has been low profile in civil society’s calls for support from politicians. Putting it front and centre in the NCVO manifesto is a welcome step towards changing this.

“Strengthening volunteer development and management, to ensure volunteers have the right skills and support to make a bigger difference, and a rewarding experience.”

3/ Make it easier for charities and volunteers to support our public services

Volunteering in public services isn’t new. Neither are the controversial issues raised, such as job substitution, the role of the state and the responsibilities of individual citizens.

With public services changing, not least because of the tremendous affects of austerity, it is right that we have a grown up debate about the role of charities and volunteers in public service delivery.

Kudos then to NCVO for being brave enough to put this in their manifesto, emphasising the positive and constructive role volunteers can play in the NHS, social care, emergency services and other services.

My only note of caution comes with their suggestion that volunteer numbers could be increased in public services. More volunteers aren’t always the answer.

“(NCVO would like to ask) services such as the NHS to set targets for the management and development of volunteering. These would aim to increase volunteer numbers, involve volunteers in a wider range of roles, and improve the experience and impact of volunteers.”

4/ Immigration

Under the heading of “Give everybody a stake in post-Brexit Britain” NCVO rightly highlight the barriers to non-Brits who wish to volunteer whilst in our country.

For those from outside the EU this requires specific permission to volunteer within their visa’s and poorly phrased limitations on those holding student visas. For EU citizens no restrictions exist, but this will surely change after Brexit in March 2019.

NCVO’s call for simple and effective visa requirements, or a visa waiver programme, are to be applauded, as is their request for the next government to quickly resolve the right to stay of EU citizens.

People from the EU have enriched our culture, society and economy. Along with their families, they work and volunteer in our public services, including for charities. We think it right that they should continue to have a stake in the future of country.

So there you have it, my four highlights from NCVO’s 2017 general election manifesto. What do you think? Do you agree with me? Do you think NCVO missed anything? Do you disagree with their manifesto requests? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

The Lords report on charities: what’s good, what’s bad and what’s missing when it comes to volunteering?

Last weekend the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities published their report, “Stronger charities for a stronger society” (NB. link opens a PDF). It’s a long read but thankfully the section focusing on volunteering runs to just a few pages (pp 62-68). NCVO have also helpfully summarised all the Lords’ recommendations in a document available online.

In this article, I want to share my initial thoughts on what the report says about volunteering. I’m not going to focus on the five associated recommendations which I broadly agree with. Rather, I want to highlight some of what I found to be good and bad in the report as well as note a few things that seem to be missing.

The good

Two really positive things struck me in the report.

First, paragraph 300, in which Karl Wilding of NCVO says:

“All the evidence from the volunteer managers we work with tells us that volunteers do not want to replace paid staff in the sense that they do not want to put people out of jobs, but they absolutely recognise that they can contribute something to a service over and above what the paid staff delivering that service do.”

As I have written elsewhere recently, we need to take a more intelligent and measured look at the issues labelled under the broad heading of ‘job substitution’. To have Karl, the volunteering lead at NCVO, take a similar line is very welcome. It shows strong leadership by NCVO on a difficult issue.

Second, I am heartened that the Lords heard evidence suggesting there is a need for a fresh vision and drive behind volunteering (paragraph 303). They quote Matthew Taylor, CEO of the RSA and chair of the Modern Employment Review set up by the Government:

“How we think about a society where being a volunteer has the same status as being an employee, and it is an important part of how people feel they are fulfilled, develop and grow in their lives, is a big opportunity. We still kind of think that the big thing in your life is your work, and you then might do a bit of volunteering on the side. It may be that in 30 years it is reversed.”

To know that some thoughtful and intelligent input into the future direction of volunteering has been considered is encouraging, even if the resulting recommendations are largely more immediate and practical in nature.

The bad

As I read the report’s volunteering section I began to sigh at the limited view of volunteering expressed by some of the charities who gave evidence to the Select Committee. Take paragraph 298 for example:

”Visionary argued that that an over-reliance on volunteers risked hindering the growth of a charity. Age UK Runnymede and Spelthorne noted that charities using volunteers to deliver services were at risk, as volunteers could not be compelled to work.”

First, why must volunteers limit the growth of a charity? The vast majority of charities are completely reliant on volunteers and continue to exist and grown quite well without paid staff. Many well established and large charities rely on a mainly volunteer workforce (for example, Samaritans and the National Trust), with paid staff in the minority. Almost every charity grew from an entirely volunteer run organisation.

Second, charities do not use volunteers. Volunteers are people. We do not use people. We use things.

Third, why must services be at risk if delivered through volunteers? Samaritans services are delivered through volunteers. Lifeboat crews are volunteers. Magistrates are volunteers. St John Ambulance provides first aid through volunteers. They all seem to manage OK. Why can’t other services?

Until these patronising and limiting views of volunteers are banished, we will forever limit the potential of volunteering to play it’s full role in transforming society for the better.

The missing

Three things struck me as missing from the report.

First, I saw no meaningful consideration of the potential of older people as volunteers. The report, like so much of volunteering, focuses on young people. This youth obsession risks blinding us to the opportunities and challenges of engaging Baby Boomers and Gen Xers as volunteers.

Second, I can find no mention of the importance of local volunteering infrastructure. As I have outlined in another article, local Volunteer Centres are essential for supporting and nurturing effective volunteer involvement. I don’t expect the Lords to lobby for a return to the days when Volunteer Centres were better funded than now, but it would have been good to see their role and importance acknowledged.

Third, there seems to be no acknowledgement of volunteering as a strategic priority for the sector. Writing for Third Sector, the chair of the Select Committee, Baroness Pitkeathly said of the challenges charities face:

“Grant programmes are being reduced or eliminated, and contracts are increasingly prescriptive and short-term, stifling charities’ ability to innovate, cover costs and plan for the future.”

Whilst access to funding is rightly identified as part of the problem, where is the mention of volunteering in this strategic context? One of the unique aspects of charities is their ability to innovate, to experiment and to find new solutions through engaging volunteers. This ability to draw in talent and extend the limited budget in creative ways is a key distinctive between the voluntary sector and the public and private sector. It is how almost all charities started – volunteer effort, trying something new and finding creative solutions. To not acknowledge or encourage this aspect of volunteering is a significant weakness in any work that claims to understand and support the sector.

A final thought

I said earlier that I wasn’t going to look at the report’s recommendations. Sorry, I lied. I want to single out just one, recommendation 28 at paragraph 311:

”Funders need to be more receptive to requests for resources for volunteer managers and co-ordinators, especially where charities are able to demonstrate a strong potential volunteer base. We recommend that Government guidance on public sector grants and contracts is amended to reflect this and set a standard for other funders.”

Whilst on one level is totally agree with this I do have a worry. It’s the same worry I get whenever I see anything that places an emphasis on external funding for volunteer engagement – why do so many organisations seek external funding for volunteer involvement rather than pay for it themselves? I know resources are tight but organisations could choose to prioritise funding for volunteer involvement rather than leave this to the vagaries of external funders. Failing to do so indicates just how little importance those organisation place on their volunteers.

Over to you

Those are my thoughts on the good, the bad and the missing from the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities, at least as it relates to volunteering. Now it’s over to you. What do you think? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone

Back in 2010 the UK’s general election resulted in a coalition government that brought in widespread funding cuts. Volunteering infrastructure was amongst the early victims as financial belts tightened.

Despite forming in 2004, Volunteering England (VE) ceased to be in 2013, merging into NCVO. Volunteer Centres closed as local government funding dried up. Some merged into other bodies like Councils for Voluntary Service, others just disappeared altogether. And the closures continue to this day as the cuts continue and deepen.

It’s still too early to tell what the long-term consequences of these changes will be for volunteerism in England. We’ve already lost a huge amount of knowledge about what was done before the age of austerity began. The Commission on the Future of Volunteering, the outputs from the ChangeUp National volunteering Hub and subsequent Modernising Volunteering National Support Service – all are consigned to the memories of those who were there. Any online presence can be hard to find, if it even exists anymore.

We’ve also lost the means to deliver any new ‘national’ volunteering initiative, a point conceded by a Cabinet Office official last year when he remarked that if the (now forgotten?) ‘three-day volunteering pledge’ was to happen we’d need a local volunteering infrastructure to deliver it.

So I am both saddened and angry to see a similar situation unfolding in Australia.

Earlier this year the Australian federal Government’s Department of Social Services announced changes to the funding pot for Volunteer Resource Centres (VRCs) that could have a devastating effect. You can read all about the situation in this excellent article from Pro Bono Australia.

Efforts are underway to work with the Australian Government to review their decision and take a different approach. Volunteering Australia, state and territory peak bodies and local VRCs are mobilising to protect the future of volunteering support services. My sincere hope is that they succeed and do not see a repeat of what has happened here in England over the last few years.

I’ll leave the last word to Alison Lai, the CEO of Volunteering Tasmania. Read her excellent article about the likely impact of the cuts in Australia here.

Three things to look for in UK volunteering in 2017

By many people’s standards 2016 wasn’t a great year. You could almost hear the global sigh of relief when it ended. So what might 2017 have in store for us?

Despite the proliferation of articles and blog posts at this time of year claiming to know what lies ahead, nobody really knows what we will be reflecting on in twelve months time. So, rather than joining the crystal ball gazers, I want to highlight three things to keep an eye on in 2017 when it comes to volunteering in the UK.


National Citizens Service gets reviewed

National Citizens Service (NCS) turns seven this year, past the troublesome toddler years and growing fast. That’s the plan at least.

Spending on NCS has increased from £62 million in 2012-13, to £84.3 million a year later, to £130.4 million in 2014-15. In this parliament alone (2015-2020) the government is spending over £1 billion on NCS. Just let that figure sink in for a moment. More than £1 billion!

Yet, as Third Sector magazine reported in November 2015:

“NCS has consistently failed to hit its participation targets since it was launched in 2010. Almost 58,000 of the 80,000 places offered in 2014/2015 were filled. In 2013/14, fewer than 40,000 young people took part, against a target of 50,000.”

Whilst NCS is about much more than volunteering, giving time is a key element of the programme. All we know from the evaluations of NCS is that the contribution those volunteers make amounts to eight million hours of donated time. In other words, a measure of input, not impact.

With all this in mind it will be interesting to see what the National Audit Office (NAO) makes of NCS when it conducts a review into the scheme early this year. With budgets most volunteering initiatives could only dream of and targets consistently missed, the NAO’s report is bound to make for interesting reading.


Online volunteering booms

In a recent article for Nesta, Vicki Sellick predicts 2017 will be a big year for online volunteering. As Vicki, the Director of Nesta’s innovation lab, puts it:

”My prediction is that 2017 might just be the year of micro-volunteering and data donation, with cheap technologies allowing everyone to volunteer from home for short and sweet periods of time, no matter how much time they have to give.”

I’m interested to see if Vicki is correct for a few reasons:

  1. How will this be measured given national research on volunteering makes no attempt to separate out and report about online volunteers?
  2. Predictions around the growth of microvolunteering have been made before and so far there is no clear evidence that these have provided true (see point 1).
  3. Online volunteering has been around for at least twenty years already as this New York times article from May 1996 shows. Why then is 2017 going to be the boom year when we see sudden growth?
  4. Where will the opportunities come from if organisations don’t invest in creating the kinds of opportunities that these online volunteers might find interesting?
  5. Finally, as Jayne Cravens makes clear in her excellent article about the myths of online volunteering, it is wrong to say that virtual volunteering is great for people who otherwise don’t have time to volunteer. Look at the contract between what Vicki and Jayne say in these quotes:

”A busy life, working two jobs, unsociable working hours and living in a remote location can all make it difficult for people to give time or money to good causes in their community. But technology now makes it possible to give your time and energy from the comfort of your own sofa.” – Vicki Sellick

”Volunteering online requires real time, not virtual time. If you don’t have time to volunteer offline, you probably also do not have time to volunteer online. Online volunteering should never be promoted as an alternative approach for people who don’t have time to volunteer face-to-face.” – Jayne Cravens


Review into the status of full-time volunteers

Just before Christmas the government announced that it had commissioned an independent review into full-time youth volunteering. The review, which is due to publish it’s recommendations in the autumn, will look at how to increase participation in full-time volunteering by examining the opportunities and barriers faced by organisations supporting young people.

Intriguingly, the i newspaper reported that the review will look into how government might support young people “to undertake a “year of service” before entering employment or going on to university.”

When the review was announced Dame Julia Cleverdon, co-founder of the #iwill campaign, intriguingly mentioned that the review would include the legal status of full-time volunteers.

”This review could be a watershed moment. The #iwill campaign wholeheartedly supports the creation of a legal status for full-time volunteers.”

This has been a murky issue since the National Minimum Wage Act when the concept of a Voluntary Worker was introduced to protect full-time and often residential volunteering, such as the opportunities that were offered by CSV (now Volunteering Matters). These muddy legislative waters have created further confusion as the debate about unpaid internships has developed in recent years.

Whatever the agenda, the results of the review will be interesting to read.


As ever I’d love to hear what you think. Do you agree with what I have said? Do you disagree? Are there other things we should be keeping an eye on? And, if you are not from the UK, what are the volunteering issues to watch in your country.

Over to you.

National Minimum Wage (Workplace Internships) Bill

The UK government is considering a ban on unpaid internships. But could their plans impact on volunteering?

Recently Alec Shelbrooke, Conservative MP for Elmet and Rothwell, introduced a Private Members Bill into Parliament titled the National Minimum Wage (Workplace Internships) Bill. Mr Shelbrooke rightly sought to bring an end to exploitative internships where young people work for private sector companies for extended periods on no pay in order to gain experience and, hopefully, employment.

As with many Private Members Bills, Mr Shelbrooke’s proposed legislation has stalled in parliament, on this occasion being filibustered out at it’s second reading. Why? It seems the government is undertaking an independent review of modern working practices and may well seek to bring it’s own legislation to outlaw exploitative internships.

Until we see any such proposals from government, analysis of what Mr Shelbrooke was proposing is both interesting and could indicate any potential affect on volunteering.

Mr Shelbrooke’s bill was short and to the point. It would have affected the whole of the UK and the core content sat in three sections.

Section one

For the purpose of this Act, a workplace internship is an employment practice in which a person (“the intern”)—

(a) undertakes regular work or provides regular services in the United

Kingdom for—

(i) another person; (ii) a company; (iii) a limited liability partnership; or

(iv) a public authority; and

(b) the purpose of the employment practice is—

(i) that the intern meets learning objectives or gains experience of

working for the employer listed in section 1(a); and (ii) to provide practical experience in an occupation or profession.

Section two

An intern who enters into a workplace internship shall be remunerated by his employer in respect of his work at a rate which is not less than the national minimum wage calculated in accordance with the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 for the appropriate age of the individual.

Subject to subsection 1 an employer is not liable for Employers’ National Insurance contributions for an intern undertaking a workplace internship of less than 12 months.

Section three

For the purposes of this Act, section 2 shall not apply if the person is—

(a) a student at a higher or further education institution based in the UK

who is required to undertake an internship or equivalent work

placement as part of his or her course;

(b) of compulsory school age;

(c) undertaking an approved English apprenticeship as set out in the

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009;

So, to summarise, an intern would be clearly defined and would have to be paid at least the national minimum wage. So far so good. However, problems would have come from interpreting and applying the bill.

First, the bill states that it only applies to companies. Whilst the intent is clearly private sector businesses, many registered charities are also registered as limited companies. Campaign groups like Intern Aware have been vocal that unpaid internships in charities are as bad as those in private companies. The Bill as worded would therefore allow registered charities to be targeted by the appropriate authorities.

Once charities become a focus of this legislation the question of volunteering is bound to come up. When I have written previously on unpaid internships I have received comments from social media trolls claiming all unpaid work should be outlawed, including volunteering. So where would Mr Shelbrooke’s Bill have left us?

For some insights let’s turn to the House of Commons debate on the Bill. When asked about the implications on volunteering Mr Shelbrooke remarked:

That looks promising until you also read the following comments from Mr Shelbrooke during the debate:

So volunteers won’t fall under the legislation if they just turn up but if a group or organisation seeks to deliberately advertise for volunteers then “that makes a mockery of things”. Also, if an organisation has a large turnover and engages people on an unpaid basis then that is exploiting a “volunteer” loophole.

That is considerably less encouraging, opening up new loopholes that could in theory allow the authorities to decide that any volunteers who are actively recruited to charities and / or who have money to pay people would be entitled to National Minimum Wage! And we haven’t even looked at volunteering in the public sector, or those roles that are really volunteering but the volunteer calls them internships to make them sound more attractive to a potential employer.

Of course, Mr Shelbrooke’s well intentioned Bill seems to be going nowhere now, but it gives an insight into how the government might seek to legislate on the exploitation of unpaid internships. What I hope I have done in this article is show that if and when legislation is introduced into Parliament on the matter it needs much further thought and refinement if it is to achieve its aim without damaging the UK’s long and proud history of volunteering.


What do you think? Add your thoughts to the debate in the comments section below.

  1. An employer may meet Employers’ National Insurance contributions for an intern undertaking a workplace internship of less than 12 months.