Maybe it’s me. I thought I had a reasonable grip on what volunteering means. Two recent stories have shaken my faith in my comprehension skills. Firstly, there’s the introduction of an American initiative to reward 4 hours of volunteering by young people with gig tickets. Now there’s the plan to fast-track British citizenship in return for community work.
The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) have called for the sector to announce a boycott of any such scheme. The confusion isn’t helped by announcements of compulsory ‘community service’ for the unemployed.
Apart from anything else, how does the Home Office think this will work? Who would police it? What would be acceptable volunteering? Would direct action against a third runway at Heathrow count? What about involvement in an informal refugee support group?
As for the gig tickets idea, words fail me. Not to mention the fact that the poor attendees will get fobbed off with someone rubbish like Razorlight.
Shame on CSV for their craven bandwagon jumping on both these ideas.
This brings me to a wider point, and I’m looking beyond CSV to all the major voluntary sector/volunteering representative bodies.
What they have in common is that they seem to believe that they are being neutral by not taking a stand. This is of course incorrect. As Howard Zinn put it, you can’t be neutral on a moving train. By refusing to take ethical positions, all they are doing is serving powerful political positions.
Volunteering is under constant threat of being chipped away. Perhaps understandably, the power of volunteering is acknowledged by government, who want to harness it – yet by doing so they threaten the very things that make it special. Unpaid and freely entered into. These are not hard concepts to grasp, and they are something we should cling on to at all costs.