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David Cameron’s National Citizen Service is likely to interest only middle class and motivated teens

Volunteering was at the top of the political agenda for a brief moment yesterday, when David Cameron used his first major press conference since the beginning of the general election campaign to announce his party’s plans for a National Citizen Service scheme.
 
Under his system, 16-year-olds would be encouraged to spend the summer after they leave school doing a residential volunteering placement and some extra volunteering hours in their local communities. Charities, social enterprises and private firms would apply to the Government to become providers of the placements.
 
There will inevitably be practical concerns about all of this: would the process of applying to run the scheme leave charities competing against private sector firms? And would businesses use the opportunity to source free labour to cover staff holiday?
 
But there’s a bigger question here, about the ways in which politicians use volunteering to meet their social aims.
 
The type of volunteering Cameron is planning sounds remarkably similar to Labour’s community service scheme for 14 to 16-year olds, being run by volunteering charity v. The main difference, it seems, is that pupils at schools running Labour’s project have no choice but to volunteer.
 
The Tories’ plan is optional, and therefore likely to attract the type of teenagers that are already drawn to volunteering. They’re motivated and enthusiastic, and can afford to spend time volunteering rather than taking on paid work in their summer holidays. And they already do the Duke of Edinburgh Award and Cathedral Camps
 
Nobody likes the phrase “compulsory volunteering” and there are serious doubts that it would work – Cameron admits that he had wanted to make national citizen service compulsory, but changed his mind on the advice of youth groups.
 
But if the Tories win the election, and want volunteering to be a social leveller, they’ll have to find a real incentive for people from less privileged backgrounds to get involved. It could be cash; it could be the guarantee of a job interview.
 
But their current plan, which Cameron describes as making the scheme “of such high quality and great benefit that everyone will want to take part,” is not enough.
 

  • Tessa Willow

    This is a timely blog, Rob, given the recent statement from Volunteering England about cuts to funding for Volunteer Centres and the loss of their expertise in working with groups and organisations to develop and create volunteering opportunities.

  • Chris Hornet

    What we hear, again and again, is people complaining that they want to give their time but either can’t find a suitable opportunity or are put off by the incompetence of the organisation they’ve applied to. It surely makes sense to concentrate on enabling those people to volunteer before trying to create a whole new market of potential volunteers? Unfortunately, the mistake every government has made is thinking that increased numbers of volunteers is, in itself, a good thing without thinking through what the impact of that volunteering is and how it needs to be supported to be effective and sustainable.

  • Adrian Barrott

    Thanks for this blog Rob, and for Tessa and Chris’ comment – which I fully endorse (particularly the need to support Volunteer Centres). I’m sure that these messages will come through very clearly at DSC Volunteer Fair event in London at the end of this month (supported by VE) – plenty of really relevant topics, and I’d suggest a ‘must’ for anyone involved in volunteer management. And, hopefully, proof of the need to preserve volunteer management budgets, not cut them. The return on investment, if approached in the ways which Rob articulates so well, is well worth worth it.

  • Anne Layzell

    I’m in London, but had a desperate email from someone outside London, semi-rural, who wanted to volunteer and had tried just about everywhere within public transport reach without luck. In London at least we have opportunities, even if matching is a challenge; more work needed on suitability of opportunities.
    Maybe the frustrated LOCOG volunteers might like to pass their time volunteering for the Olympic litter picking and graffiti removal that I saw advertised the other day… yes, I am being flippant.