Volunteer work in the recession – a lost opportunity?

No increase in volunteering

New Citizenship Survey data published last week by CLG show volunteering levels have remained almost static over the past year in England.

Levels of formal volunteering at least once a month are unchanged since 2001.

This lack of increase in volunteering despite the rising levels of unemployment seems to confirm what many in the voluntary and community sector have been saying about a lack of funding and capacity to meet increased demand for volunteering opportunities.

Rates of volunteering from the Place Survey which provides evidence for a number of the national indicators, including NI6 (volunteering), found that rates of volunteering are lower in the West Midlands than average. Also, within the region, the areas with the highest rates of worklessness have the lowest rates of volunteering.

While the rate of regular volunteering in Malvern Hills is 33%, in Stoke-on-Trent and Sandwell it is half that at just 16%.

Volunteering as a crucial tool in engaging the workless

With rising unemployment comes the risk of people becoming long-term unemployed. It is crucial to keep individuals engaged in meaningful activities in order to preserve their mental health, and keep them work-ready for when jobs become available.

Evidence from the Institute for Volunteering Research points to the benefits of volunteering in terms of the development of both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills — both of which have been identified as seriously lacking in the West Midlands.

Volunteering is also known to help to maintain good mental health and combat social isolation.

Not a quick fix

Many volunteer centres have struggled to cope with increased demand for voluntary work during the recession.

Placing the unemployed into volunteering is not an easy option. The long-term aims of the host organisation may be centred on their service delivery rather than the provision of skills and employability to volunteers, and volunteers with specific needs require extra support.

Furthermore, volunteering infrastructure is locally based and often tends to be under-resourced, with limited strategic direction.

Does this represent a lost opportunity for the region?

The Observatory is linking with partners across the region to highlight the issue of volunteering as part of our work on the impact of the recession.

If you have any views on this issue, please get in touch or comment below.

One Response

  1. […] interesting WMRO posting on volunteering rates in the West Midlands during the recession… “New Citizenship Survey data published last week by CLG show volunteering levels have […]

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