Anyone who's ever spoken to me for more than about five minutes will know that I'm a serial volunteer. I contracted the volunteering bug sometime around my 14th birthday and ever since, have lived and breathed volunteering. It's something which has introduced me to some amazing people, given me opportunities beyond what I could ever have imagined, and most importantly, something which has given me the gift of self-belief.
So, when the Conservative manifesto came out this week and included the pledge: '...we will make volunteering for three days a year a workplace entitlement for people working in large companies and the public sector' I was intrigued.
At first I was delighted! I felt like finally, some recognition was being given to the incredible work that the voluntary sector provides. People who worked full time would finally have the chance to volunteer! Fantastic, right?!
Not so much...
The dictionary definition of volunteering is: '1. To perform or offer to perform a service of one's own free will. 2. To do charitable or helpful work without pay'. So is this proposal even technically volunteering? Each person volunteering would be doing so of their own free will... and they wouldn't be paid for the 'volunteering' activity that they were taking part in. However, they would still be paid for the day's work.
Thinking more about what a great opportunity it would be for those who worked full time, had children and 'didn't have time' to volunteer, I think about those around me. I see my Mum, who worked full time as a consultant doctor, had three young children and still helped to keep our local church running. The Scout leader I know who's been running a Beaver colony for over ten years, despite having children and working full time as an accountant. I look at the Dads who spend their weeks in suits doing clever things in the city, and spend their Saturday mornings knee-deep in mud on a football field. Do people actually not have time to volunteer, or is volunteering just not a priority to them?
There is an argument that this paid leave will give a real boost to the charity sector, providing more volunteers to run the vital services these organisations provide. I would argue that this was perhaps an overly optimistic view. I'm sure there will be people who have never volunteered before and take this leave; there may even be people who've never volunteered, take this leave, fall in love with what they're doing and continue to volunteer outside of their work hours. But I imagine the majority of people who choose to take this leave will be those who already volunteer.
If the Conservatives, and other parties, really want to show how much they value the work of the voluntary sector, they need to show it in real, meaningful ways, not just make these passing comments (one sentence in an 83-page manifesto). Personally, I work with five different charities on a regular basis. In the next nine months, four of these charities are losing funding. Two of them to the extent that their programmes can no longer continue, the other two are still unknown. That is just the charities that I work with.
If Cameron really wants to form a 'Big Society', he needs to start respecting these organisations and valuing them for what their worth. At the end of the day, there's no point having this 'volunteering leave' if there are no organisations left to volunteer for.
This blog was written by Naomi Barrow, who's a BBC Generation 2015 contributor. Her views are entirely her own.Suggest a correction