Tory “volunteer leave” is absolute bollocks and largely unhelpful to charities

Like everyone else, I can’t fucking avoid all this election waffle. It would be nice if, like during the World Cup, news websites had a way of hiding this big event, because almost everything I see annoys the piss out of me.

Today, it’s the Tories rebranding their “Big Society” wiffle with a promise to require large employers to allow workers paid leave to do volunteering. Three days of volunteering leave!

*record scratch*

Three days a year.

Anybody who has worked at a charity will recognise that this is almost entirely unhelpful to how charities work, and the sort of volunteers charities tend to need. I have worked at small charities and have volunteered in the past, and I can see numerous holes in what is being proposed.

Regular volunteers are crucial to how charities operate. Three days a year is nowhere near enough for many of the tasks charities require from volunteers. Regular, reliable volunteers are the lifeblood of the kind of small charity that cannot afford an employee to perform the work that keeps an organisation ticking over. Volunteers are often needed for the less-than-glamorous, time-consuming tasks like updating databases, stuffing envelopes, and so on. This is stuff which paid staff could do themselves, but then they would never get round to doing their actual jobs. It would be ideal if this sort of work was paid, but charities cannot afford it, and I don’t see the government leaping to subsidise this crucial labour.

Volunteers need to be trained. Regular volunteers are better for charities, because, even with clerical office work, the volunteers need to know the ropes. Every organisation functions differently, and just because a volunteer is a wizard with a particular CRM, doesn’t mean they’ll know how one particular charity formats their data. For volunteers delivering a service (Rape Crisis and the Samaritans spring to mind), the training is at an even higher level. Even if just for an event, volunteers need to know their stuff because they’re representing the charity or cause. A level of training is absolutely essential, and of course this is time- and resource-intensive. Under these three-day-a-year Tory proposals, what would happen would be volunteers would receive their training and then just swan off into the sunset with a sense of warm fuzzies.

Volunteers require a whole bundle of paperwork. It’s difficult having volunteers. While charities may vary in their volunteer policies, having a volunteer generates at least a small degree of labour pays off if they stick around. Everyone requires some sort of record of volunteers, but also some charities might require volunteers undergo a DBS check, for example. I have a sneaking suspicion the Tory proposals would generate yet more paperwork for charities, given that I am sure employers will only grant leave for volunteering with documentation that an employee is actually volunteering at a specific place.

Even for big events, it would be nice to have regulars. I get that this proposal isn’t for the type of volunteering desperately needed by small charities. I get that it’s so a load of employees from big businesses can turn up and smile in photos after planting a tree or whatnot. Here’s the thing: a lot of small charities already have people to do that: regular volunteers. The relationship of trust with a regular volunteer is great for small charities, as you know they’re not going to say or do anything terrible when the cameras are pointed at them. Somebody who has only donated three days has not had the time to build this relationship, and there would be this anxiety hanging over the whole thing.

In short, the whole thing is better for employers (who can feel good about letting their employees go off and volunteer) and potential volunteers rather than charities. For the tiny charities who need volunteers the most, these proposals would create a massive headache with little benefit.

Disclaimer: I suspect the content of this blog will appeal to people with political affiliations which aren’t the Tories, so allow me to say that as well as the Tories being dripping anuses, so are the Green Party, Labour, the Lib Dems, UKIP, TUSC and all the other tiddly trot parties, the nationalist parties of NI, Scotland and Wales, as well as Mebyon Kernow (who always get forgotten), and also the loyalist parties, and basically, if you’re in a political party, your party’s shit. So there.


4 responses to “Tory “volunteer leave” is absolute bollocks and largely unhelpful to charities

  • Graham Martin

    Sadly there’s a whole bunch of charities who will use the whole “turn up and paint a room”/”clear a garden” volunteers. There’s one in York called Besom who are, frankly, the cities most paternalistic, shitty charity going. When I had to read their website, it was basically all about the deserving poor and shit. I also reckon what might happen is large employers effectively supplying 1 staff member on continuous rotation to a charity shop, where they’ll work in company uniform or something.

  • Mark Restall

    I’ve worked in volunteering for many years and I think what you’ve written is basically spot on. It sounds like a nice policy, but it won’t have much impact.

    There’s also the underlying assumption on all sides (including within the voluntary sector) that more volunteers is a good thing. Leaving aside the practicalities (what will they be doing, who will train and support them), the fact we have a voluntary sector is a clear sign that our economy/society is not geared/intended to meet people’s needs. Charities should be aiming to abolish themselves, but in reality the sector is often happy to compete for local/central government contracts.

  • Lilybright

    Cameron was specifically suggesting that public sector employees should have three days a year off to volunteer.
    Now here’s a funny thing… I’m a public sector employee and I already volunteer in a whole bunch of projects. In fact, I’ve done that my whole adult – and much of my pre-adult – life. Plus, my public sector employer owes me big-time for all the unpaid hours I put in. I am no different from most of my colleagues.
    So Cameron now proposes, having cut funding from my employer (and therefore jobs) that those of us left doing 2-3 people’s work, should now go off to some unaccountable voluntary agency and that our employer ( ultimately the council tax payer) should pay us to do god knows what unskilled work instead of the skilled work we’re paid to do. Yeah right. That makes good social and economic sense. Tosser.

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