Wednesday, 28 September 2016

A missed opportunity

Just a few days ago Third Sector magazine published the welcome news that the government and Nesta were making a £4million investment into volunteering by people aged over 50. This comes just under three months since I blogged about the apparent youth obsession the UK has when it comes to volunteering and no, I’m not taking the credit for it!

With an ageing population and a decreasing proportion of the total population being made up of the under 30s, it is long overdue to see any sort of meaningful investment in volunteering by older people. In recent days the Royal Voluntary Service has called for a more strategic approach to volunteering by retirees and in July a paper was published by the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing reflecting on the slow progress over the preceding twelve months to address it’s recommendations, including those around volunteerism.

So £4million is welcome.

But, it is a drop in ocean compared to the £1billion being invested in National Citizens Service over the life of the 2015–2020 Westminster parliament. £4million amounts to just 0.4% of the NCS investment, highlighting how disproportionate the funding is!

More concerning is what the funding will support. One aspect was described in the Third Sector article as:

“The Join In Stay fund will award grants of up to £50,000 and non-financial support from behavioural science experts for organisations to carry out randomised controlled trials to understand best encourages volunteers to continue to give their time regularly.”

Whilst long term, regular, committed volunteering might have been a hallmark of the duty oriented parents of the baby boomers, it is not associated at all with the way the post-war generation want to give time. Repeated studies have shown that they want choice, flexibility, the ability to fit volunteering around busy, post-retirement lives that involve travel, leisure, caring for others (e.g. parents and grandchildren) etc.. As the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing said:

“The reserve army of “little old ladies” (and men) upon whom so many voluntary organisations depend, will be juggling ever more demands on their time. Informed by their more varied cultural, educational and professional backgrounds, future generations will have different expectations of, and attitudes towards, their later lives.”

Furthermore, another element of the funding was described by Third Sector as:

“Up to £100,000 in grants will be available from the Give More Get More – Exploring Intensive Volunteering fund to support organisations in trials of intensive volunteering placements, such as gap year-type trips, for people approaching or in retirement.”

Which leaves me asking why so much of this new funding is being spent looking at the long term, regular and committed model of volunteering which is becoming less and less relevant to the over 50s?

Simply put I think Nesta and the government have got this wrong. They are either ignorant of the realities of what people over the age of 50 want from volunteering or they just don’t care, remaining wedded to a form of volunteering that is less and less popular. Whatever the reason, with such a small investment in such an important area, I fear that a large amount of this money is going to be wasted. What a missed opportunity!