Borderline stupidity

Borderline stupidity

Do volunteers have a place monitoring and securing the UK border? That is the question raised by a new idea under consideration by the UK Government – “Border Force Special Volunteers”.

Border force volunteers?

According to the BBC, who reported this story on 31 December 2017, there are concerns about the UK Border Force’s capacity to cover smaller ports and entry places into the country. An assessment by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, published in July 2017, looked at 62 normally unmanned ports on the east coast and found that Border Force officers had not visited 27 of the sites between April 2015 to June 2016.The report also revealed the number of clandestine migrants detected at the ports had almost doubled in 12 months.

One option under consideration to plug this gap is a scheme similar to the Special Constables, often volunteers who work for Police Forces throughout the UK. The Home Office has said that if it was to introduce volunteers, they would be used to “bolster” Border Force staffing levels and would not be used by Immigration Enforcement.

A UK Border Force employee

In response to these ideas, the Conservative MP for Dover & Deal, Charlie Elphicke, was reported by the BBC as saying, “We can’t have a Dad’s Army-type of set-up”, bringing to mind the much-loved British sitcom about bumbling, incompetent WW2 Home Guard volunteer soldiers.

Mr Elphicke, went on to say that he would:

“Urge great caution before seeking to adopt a model like that used by the police, with special constables. Border security is a skilled job, which takes many years of training.”

There are two things that concern me about this idea which, to stress again, is currently under consideration and not due for immediate implementation.

My first concern

First, I find Mr Elphicke’s remarks astoundingly insulting to volunteers. As a politician, volunteers are essential to Mr Elphicke’s work. They are the ones who knock on doors and beat the streets campaigning for him at election time. He represents a constituency where there is a strong culture of volunteering, where people give of their time to help others and strengthen the community.

Yet Mr Elphicke chooses to caricature volunteers as bumbling, incompetents like those in Dad’s Army. He further suggests that border security is a skilled role and so incompatible with the model used in the Special Constabulary.

I assume the police would disagree with Mr Elphicke’s inference that being a Special Constable is an unskilled role. A quick look at the Kent Police website (Mr Eplhicke’s constituency is in Kent) makes it clear that Specials in the county have to undergo training lasting six to eight months, including 12 days on operational attachments and eight training modules, four of which are two-day weekend sessions. This hardly implies an unskilled role.

Two special constables
Two special constables

My second concern

My second concern is the thinking that developed this idea in the first place. This idea smacks of a ‘volunteers are free / cheap’ mindset.

I’m all for volunteers being involved in significant roles in society. The extent of volunteer involvement in public services in the UK is always vastly underestimated and without volunteer effort many aspects of daily life in the country – such as education, health and social care, coastguard and criminal justice – simply wouldn’t operate in the same way.

Volunteers don’t always complement and supplement paid staff, they can do things paid staff cannot. But I see no evidence of this in the Home Office’s thinking, at least as far as the story about the UK Border Force has been reported. I see no evidence of anyone exploring why volunteers would be the best way to meet the need identified in the July assessment by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration.

Here are just two questions I’d like an answer to:

  1. What is it that volunteers would bring to these roles that paid staff can’t?
  2. If the money was there, would paid staff be hired rather than volunteers?

Conclusion

What this story illustrates is a likely lack of intelligent thought behind why volunteers should be involved in roles such as the proposed Border Force teams. Perhaps the Home Office should engage some expert support on volunteering to help them think this through? I wonder who might be able to help 😉

The story also highlights the ignorance of an elected official who most likely spouts platitudes about volunteering in his constituency and his parliamentary work but reveals his apparent ignorance in his remarks on this matter. I suggest Mr Elphicke spends some time with volunteers in his constituency to further his education about the importance of their work to this country.

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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 NHS is in crisis. How might volunteering help?

The NHS has had a rough winter. Years of austerity, an ageing population, declining adult social care services and rising demand have placed the UK’s national treasure under stress like never before. For the last few months the headlines have come almost daily: accident and emergency waiting time targets missed; queues of ambulances outside hospitals; extreme bed blocking; and patients waiting hours on trolleys in corridors before they get treatment.

The headline that struck me the most was the warning from the British Red Cross that the NHS faces a ‘humanitarian crisis’. On the 6th January 2017, The Guardian newspaper quoted Mike Adamson, chief executive of the British Red Cross, as saying:

“We are responding to the humanitarian crisis in our hospital and ambulance services across the country. We have been called in to support the NHS and help get people home from hospital and free up much needed beds. This means deploying our team of emergency volunteers and even calling on our partner Land Rover to lend vehicles to transport patients and get the system moving.”

What do these volunteers do? A helpful summary is available in an article from BBC News on the 7th January 2017:

The Red Cross offers a ‘support at home’ service to hospitals that need to improve the flow of people in and out of hospital.

Volunteers visit trusts to see what social care needs patients have when they are discharged. They then visit them at home and help them with tasks including collecting prescriptions, doing shopping or simply offering company.

It says the number of patients its volunteers see has gone up by 10% year-on-year and the range of tasks is increasing, such as making sure people eat, helping them to get dressed or assisting them in going to the toilet.

At one trust, the organisation has been working alongside hospital matrons to arrange transport for people to take them home. It uses its fleet of Land Rovers and also provides back-up for the ambulance service.

The situation was mentioned in Sir Stuart Etherington’s 2017 new year letter to the voluntary and community sector. He said:

“Social care in particular is consuming an ever greater proportion of local government spending. The trajectory appears unsustainable. Other services important to people and communities are sacrificed to make way for the essentials. And in just the last week, charities have rightly been at the forefront of drawing attention to the problems facing the NHS. No one would claim that volunteering alone can bridge the rapidly increasing gaps between demand and supply here. But volunteering, both formal and informal, has to be part of the solution.”

Almost all of the responses to Sir Stuart’s letter that I have seen have focused on the role of volunteers in delivering services within the NHS and adult social care. But the solutions could be more nuanced and sophisticated than that.

For example, discussion of the role of volunteering in reducing demand on struggling public services has been almost non-existent. Concepts like social prescribing do not require more volunteers to be thrown at the NHS but enable primary care professionals to refer people to volunteering schemes to relieve the pressure before it gets to be a problem.

Social prescribing recognises that people’s health is determined primarily by a range of social, economic and environmental factors. Consider that research commissioned by the RSPB underlines the strong links between good physical health, good mental health and the natural environment, whilst other research quoted by the RSPB shows that physical inactivity has serious effects on human health, which cost the UK economy more than £8 billion a year. So, a doctor practicing social prescribing might refer some patients to an organisation like the RSPB to volunteer in the natural environment. These patients then improve their physical and mental health through volunteering and consequently reduce future demands they might place on the NHS.

This isn’t wishy washy idealism. People and organisations are using social prescribing and other models to make a real difference in society. For example, Altogether Betterare having success with approaches that increase the efficiency of health services, improve the health of individuals and strengthen local communities.

Sir Stuart Etherington called for 2017 to be a year in which we have a bold conversations about the role of volunteers in our society. If we are to respond then must do so with our eyes open to all the possibilities and potential, not just the risks and limitations. That includes not just how volunteering can help in times of crisis, but the role of volunteers in lessening the causes of crisis in the first place.