We have a shared objective across Scotland to increase volunteering because of the many positive impacts it has – both for those of us that volunteer and for the people and communities we support in a vast array of activities across virtually every aspect of life.

Despite seeing significant increases in awareness and interest in volunteering in Glasgow (due in no small part to the huge efforts of partners working to maximise the ‘Legacy’ from the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games), we have yet to see this translate into any increase in active volunteering rates. In fact, the latest Scottish Household Survey rates for formal volunteering across the country suggest a possible decrease.

We know that there are likely to be a range of factors involved in this, but principal amongst them in our view are:

  • The lack of an equally significant increase in advertised opportunities for people to volunteer – or the right types of opportunities to match changing interests.
  • A number of barriers that prevent people from volunteering.

We have been working increasingly successfully with others to address the first of these, but it is the second which has been a focus for many partners for some time, and for the last 2 years the people and partner agencies on Glasgow’s Poverty Leadership Panel. As an element of its activities under its ‘work and worth’ theme, the Panel aims to make volunteering more accessible and to ensure that “Volunteering is recognised as having value in itself…” (not just as a route to improved employability).

It cannot be right in 21st century Scotland that people are afraid of volunteering. And yet that is precisely the reaction of virtually anyone with experience of work capability assessments when advised they should discuss volunteering with DWP staff before starting – and of those actively seeking paid employment when threatened with sanctions.

The future employability – or contributory – landscape in Scotland should protect people’s freedom to choose to volunteer. Legislation and international agreements on human rights in relation to “participation” should surely help us to do that?

Volunteering must be open to all or we risk reinforcing and increasing inequality.

How can we work with our elected representatives and Government officials to ensure that one area of policy such as welfare reform doesn’t undermine other, shared policies on volunteering, community empowerment, 2012 and 2014 ‘Legacy’ and ‘Big Society’ (of which the latter effectively only applies to our neighbours south of the border)? Very interestingly, Andy Haldane, the Chief Economist of the Bank of England, recently provided a very robust and positive assessment of the value of volunteering.

It is from this perspective – and also as a result of our work to support thousands of the city’s carers – that Volunteer Glasgow very much welcomes SCVO’s discussion paper, “Employability, Social Justice and Contribution”. SCVO’s big idea is to, “shift state support for employability away from focusing solely on getting people into paid jobs, to one which is about supporting them to contribute to society based on what they can best offer at any one point in time.”Perhaps Scotland’s employment policies should adopt a ‘participation strategy’?

We would urge you to consider the paper, to share your own views at the earliest possible opportunity and contribute to the national conversations on how we can achieve a fairer Scotland.

Find out more about Glasgow Poverty Leadership Panel’s activities on volunteering at the Volunteer Glasgow website.