The Importance of Volunteering
…for Covid-19, recovery and beyond
Paul, Kirsty, Suzanne and David reflect on some of the key issues we all need to consider if we want to build on the incredibly positive volunteering responses to the pandemic, to manage an effective recovery and achieve a fairer, wellbeing economy.
As we celebrate national Volunteers Week, we hope you can all take the opportunity to join us in saying thank you to everyone that has volunteered over the last 12 months, before or after lockdown and to the many people that have offered to help with covid-19 responses but haven’t yet been able to do so?
All our volunteering responses to the coronavirus (covid-19) pandemic have been outstanding and have served to illustrate the fundamental importance of people’s unpaid contributions to communities and the wider economy not just during the emergency, but always. It has been inspiring and has created a stronger fabric to our society, a springboard for a more community-centred future we can all help to create.
Freedom to contribute in different ways
Scotland needs to be a place where everyone is empowered to participate and contribute to a fairer, wellbeing economy in different, multiple ways: through properly rewarded paid work but also through a variety of appropriate, unpaid roles – that are often undervalued – including the distinct roles of unpaid (family) care and volunteering.
Too often we see commentators mistakenly framing policy discussions as if all these different contributions are mutually exclusive or of secondary value if they don’t attract a price in the labour market. They’re not: in any given week in our lives, we should all be able to undertake more than one because our health and wellbeing is significantly undermined if we can’t. The positive health benefits to people of their volunteering have never been better evidenced.
Prior to the pandemic, we needed to better understand how policy and practice in one area of the economy impacts on the other contributions we need people to make. We were asking, for example, about the extent to which precarious employment and presenteeism (working unpaid overtime/working while sick) or increased childcare by grandparents or DWP rules for social security claimants were restricting people’s availability and freedom to volunteer.
It is even more important now to understand the complexities of these inter-relationships between people’s different contributions as we manage our exit from lockdown into the new normal. We are already examining how we will deal effectively with the implications of physical distancing for schools on parents, guardians, grandparents, and the knock-on impact on arrangements for their paid work, their volunteering and on child care providers. Less obvious perhaps, but not necessarily any less significant, will be the ongoing restrictions for those people that are shielding who are unable to continue volunteering as they did previously: how many of their roles will be adapted so they can be done remotely?
Volunteering for All
Prior to covid-19 we had collectively achieved some very welcome reductions in Scotland’s inequalities in people’s participation in volunteering, particularly amongst young people, but much more work was still required.
It is possible that across all the different forms of volunteering that people have undertaken during the pandemic that inequalities in participation may have widened further as a result of shielding, increased poverty and insecurity of employment: we need to urgently examine the evidence but also do everything we can during recovery to ensure health inequalities are not further exacerbated by widening inequalities in volunteering. How many public and third sector organisations actually know how inclusive they are in their volunteering programmes? Now is the time to start thinking even more flexibly about how volunteering roles can be carried out in the future.
We continue to share the Government’s vision of a Scotland “where everyone can volunteer, more often, and throughout their lives” [Volunteering for All, 2019] and we are therefore determined to work with partners to (a) provide an increased range of services to support individuals and organisations on volunteering and (b) help redesign our economy and social systems so that they work for us all.
We need to work with Government and a range of partners and stakeholders to redouble efforts to develop the delivery plan for the Volunteering for All framework in order to (a) agree the optimal combination of resources and programmes to deliver the agreed outcomes locally and nationally and (b) identify the necessary policy changes in other parts of the economy – such as childcare, work/life balance, social security – to enable more people to volunteer more often.
Solidarity (not charity)
It has been a privilege to work with so many people self-organising and looking to set up groups to respond so quickly to coronavirus.
Often we have been able to support you to become quickly conversant with a public and third sector environment with which you had little previous knowledge, to navigate the rules and guidelines on fundraising, to decide whether to constitute or to identify established organisations with which you needed to work to solve a problem.
It has forced many of us to question whether some of the old concepts and established legal frameworks – or simply the terms we use – are still fit for purpose.
Thriving People. Thriving Places.
How many of us were able to rise to the challenge of the pandemic and offer to help neighbours, start mutual aid groups or sign up to volunteer because we suddenly had enough time to do so?
We surely don’t want to go back to a world where employment demands and income insecurity make it so difficult for us to lend a hand and do all the other things we love outside of work?
Is a better work/life balance really so beyond our reach? Is the evidence of increased productivity resulting from shorter working weeks elsewhere in Europe not already strong enough to warrant serious examination of changes to economic and employment policy?
And how can local services collaborate even more effectively to empower people to develop their ability to participate and contribute in different ways to a fairer, wellbeing economy in all of the places where we live?
Choice (not exploitation)
During the crisis we’ve also seen policy-makers and organisations acting to involve people in inappropriate (unpaid) roles labelled as volunteering.
It is perhaps unsurprising in an emergency situation that organisations in one sector of the economy are so unfamiliar with the established principles of another? But we’ve seen similar, recent examples before the pandemic: so there is little doubt that an increased understanding of the value of volunteering would also help us broaden understanding of best practice.
Mission driven corporate social responsibility?
Perhaps, therefore, we can also manage to rebalance resources and make significant progress to increase inter-sector collaborations and bring those of us employed in the private sector to work more effectively together with third and public sector initiatives to deliver social impact? Would this not build on the recent experience of many who perhaps had their first experience of volunteering, taking forward the sense of connection that has changed our communities for the better?
Tell us what you think
It is vital we understand your views as we work with partners locally and nationally on these issues, to manage the recovery and deliver a fairer, wellbeing economy.
Stay safe, have a great Volunteers Week and tell us what you think by dropping us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Kirsty Macdonald/Suzanne Macaulay, Volunteer Centre Western Isles/Eilean Siar
- Paul Wilson, Volunteer Edinburgh
- David Maxwell, Volunteer Glasgow