Monday, 24 July 2017

Free labour? At whose expense?

Volunteering sounds like a thoroughly worthy occupation. It enables people with the time to do so to make a generous contribution to their community or some charitable purpose close to their heart. In doing so it benefits the organisation, its beneficiaries and the volunteer. What is not to like?

David Cameron started out his disastrous premiership propounding the Big Society, in which everyone would contribute to the communities in which they lived through volunteering, with these apparent benefits. This would enable government and councils to outsource public services to charities deemed to be specialists in their field, with savings to the public purse. Unfortunately, he accompanied this policy with swingeing cuts to Local Authority budgets, which had the result that funding for community projects and charities was severely curtailed, such that those which might have had the capacity to carry out contracts for services lost this.

However, the cuts to State delivery continued and public services were either digitised or simply reduced. Thousands of competent civil servants and council staff lost their jobs. Citizens were gradually deprived of more and more services on which they had relied. Many, appalled that parks and libraries were to close, stepped up to volunteer and keep them going. Others, seeing the plight of neighbours impoverished by the reductions in welfare, started and ran food banks, now helping sustain over 1m citizens of this country. More yet, often frail themselves, are driven by lack of alternatives within their compass, to act as full-time carers for their ageing loved ones. What a triumph for the Big Society.

So before accepting that volunteering role, consider whose job it used to be or should be; what skills and training it ought to have; and whether by taking it, you are helping the diminution of the State or local services on which we are all entitled to rely. Volunteering can be a good thing but should surely not supplant the livelihoods of fellow citizens, especially by a less professional alternative. Maybe that energy which would be used in volunteering could be devoted to demanding that the State does its job.

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