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Report seeks change on volunteers

by Bill Bowder

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ASYLUM-SEEKERS and government workers are among the groups singled out in a volunteer initiative, backed by the Church, to change England into a culture where people help each other more.

A 36-page document, Manifesto for Change: Report of the Commission on the Future of Volunteering, was published on Monday. It calls on the Government to put £5 million each year into volunteering. It also recommends that volunteers should have their own Cabinet minister, a parliamentary committee, and be assessed by regulatory bodies such as Ofsted.

The Commission, chaired by Baroness Neuberger, was set up two years ago by the England Volunteering Development Council. Among its members was the former Bishop of Aston, the Rt Revd John Austin, until his death last year.

Volunteering accounted for the equivalent of 2.1 million full-time workers, and added £48.1 billion to the economy in 2005. Yet an increasingly sectarian society, and a loss of trust and neighbourliness, combined with unnecessary hurdles put in the way of volunteers, has meant that a cultural shift is

needed to make the most of the potential for volunteering, the report says.

“Our vision is of a society in which we will be united by our common concern for the well-being of others; a society in which we enrich our own lives by enriching the lives of others.”

It warns that an emphasis on avoiding risk is putting people off. “The point is that organisations at all levels may have lost sight of the purpose of some of the measures that were introduced as safeguards.”

There are other barriers to volunteering, the manifesto says. There is a misconception that asylum-seekers cannot volunteer. Government organisations, despite promoting the value of volunteers, do little to enable their employees to do voluntary work. The report criticises other employers along similar lines.

It has strong words about government initiatives to promote volunteerism: “The depressing thing is that messages about short-termism and a project-based approach that fails to become mainstream — all of which we heard about repeatedly — are not new.”

www.volunteering.org.uk

Manifesto for Change is downloadable from www.volcomm.org.uk

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