STYLE

How Will The 'Big Society' Work If No One Has Time To Volunteer?

19/05/2011 11:35 | Updated 22 May 2015

Two years ago during a rare week off work in England, I decided to use my time well and investigate volunteering opportunities at local charities. I settled upon one that helped children who had fallen behind, or completely out of, the school system.

On a sunny Tuesday morning, I went along to meet with the charity's director and have a tour of the organisation's facilities. After filling in forms and producing the necessary material to prove I was fit to work with children, I was officially accepted as a volunteer.

I never went back.

It seemed like a really great idea while I was off work and enjoying swanning around London, feeling that glow of smug altruism one automatically gets after 'doing something for the good of others' (or at least signing up to). However, once back at my desk fraught with deadlines, it seemed virtually impossible to make it over to west London by 6pm and throw myself into some meaningful lessons.

My brief and unsuccessful foray into what is now being called the 'Big Society', seems to ring true with others' experiences or feelings on volunteering. A report from the Commission on the Big Society published earlier this week, shows that more than 10 million people would be happy to play a role in David Cameron's vision as long as they got paid days off work to do it.

Nine per cent of employed adults in the UK said they would be very happy to apply for paid time off work to volunteer, while 28 per cent said they would be fairly likely – a figure totalling roughly 10.8 million. A further 54 per cent of those polled by YouGov, on behalf of the Commission, believe it is a firm's duty to enable employees to volunteer.

To be blunt, most people don't want to have use their holiday for volunteering and now that Cameron has formalised volunteering as a state-encouraged activity, people feel entitled to be allowed paid time off work to take part.

And yet, very few companies have offered this option to employees. Even those companies that do support their employees very rarely offer more than two or three days a year. What difference is that going to make? You can hardly contribute meaningfully and consistently to anything.

Understanding of Cameron's 'Big Society' is thin on the ground. And with Lord Wei, the businessman assigned to implement our Prime Minister's vision having recently announced he his scaling back the amount of time he dedicates to the project, and a key launch partner, Liverpool City Council, having dramatically pulled out, the Big Society seems to be unravelling.

Cameron has implored us to take our communities' issues back into our own hands, while forgetting most of us need to work a full-time job in order to pay the bills to remain part of society. He seems to have also forgotten that many of his Government's cuts are destroying the few vestiges of community life which remain in this country.

The two biggest problems with Cameron's vision are that it requires time people don't have or want to give, and enthusiasm for their community, which most seem to be lacking.

I want to contribute, but I also want to make enough money to put down a deposit on a scarily priced house. And while the two seem mutually exclusive, sadly I, and many others have chosen to focus our time on achieving the latter and not playing our role in the 'Big Society'.

Emma Barnett is the Digital Media Editor of The Daily Telegraph. She writes about media, culture, technology and social issues and has a monthly column in The Sunday Telegraph. Emma is also a broadcaster, regularly contributing to BBC Radio 4, Radio 5 Live, BBC World Service, Sky News, ABC, CNN and LBC. Additionally she has written for The Times, The Sunday Times, Esquire Magazine, TimeOut London, The Stage Newspaper and Media Week. She can be found tweeting via @emmabarnett.

More:

Unfiled
Suggest a correction