Full-time Social Action Review: How charities can contribute

In December 2016, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) announced an independent review into full-time social action.

After some delay, the review has issued a call for evidence and is seeking charities’ views on the matter. We want to encourage all volunteer-involving organisations to take notice of this review and for those that can, to contribute evidence by 13 October.

This post will bring you up to speed on the review and tell you how you can contribute.

What is full-time social action?

‘Full-time social action’ is defined here as people undertaking unpaid practical action in the service of others to create positive change, for at least 16 hours a week, for six months or more.

How will the review work?

This review is being chaired by Steve Holliday, former CEO of National Grid and current board member of Business in the Community and #iwill. A further five people have been appointed to the panel.

The panel will collate evidence, run a number of round-tables and engage with cross-sector experts, before reporting back with recommendations to government by the end of the year.

What issues will it cover?

The key aim of the review is to explore opportunities for getting more young people involved in this kind of full-time social action. Read the full terms of reference (pdf, 119KB).

As part of this, the review wants to hear about:

  • whether full-time social action provides distinctive benefits over part-time social action or volunteering
  • examples where full-time social action has worked well
  • where the barriers and opportunities for greater participation lie.

The review is also likely to consider changing the legal status of full-time volunteers. Currently, young people engaged in full-time social action are classified as NEETs (not in employment, education or training), and therefore miss-out on things like national insurance contributions.

It also puts restrictions on benefits they can receive as volunteers, particularly additional training and stipends. A change in legal status has been particularly championed by City Year UK, a charity that offers full-time volunteering for young people in schools.

What is NCVO doing?

For NCVO, this review touches on some key issues, so we will be responding to the call for evidence:

  1. We’ll be taking a look at existing models of youth social action and thinking about the demand and need for further full-time social action, and how it could fit within the existing volunteering landscape.
  2. We’ll be thinking about how we can ensure new full-time social action programmes are high-quality and offer young participants excellent development opportunities that are recognised by employers and universities.
  3. We’ll be considering how we can ensure full-time social action is accessible to all, and how more flexible opportunities can be developed to ensure no-one misses out on the benefits.
  4. We’ll be thinking carefully about any proposal to create a new legal status for full-time volunteers, and the potential of creating a two-tiered system, disadvantaging social action and volunteering participants who are committing less than the specified hours.

This review could have implications for volunteering more widely, particularly if a change in legal status is put forward. It is essential that the views and expertise of volunteer-involving organisations are heard by the review.

In particular, we encourage charities to consider the accessibility of full-time social action. Existing models often require young people to have family that live in a city and that can support them financially. For young carers, disabled young people, those coming out of care or those living in rural areas, full-time social action may be out of reach. Disadvantaged young people are already underrepresented in social action figures (pdf, 236KB) – we don’t want to worsen this.

How you can take part

There are a huge number of charities delivering high-quality volunteering to young people including full-time, part-time and micro-volunteering opportunities. We think it is important charities contribute their expertise to this review. Evidence and insight into issues around accessibility, barriers, legal status and ensuring full-time social action programmes are high quality, will be particularly valuable. Read the call for evidence and see what you can contribute.

We’re keen to hear from NCVO members to shape our response to the review so please do get in touch by commenting below or email us directly with your views at will.downs@ncvo.org.uk.

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Will Downs Will supports NCVO’s policy work on volunteering development. His interests include the role of volunteering in public services and removing barriers to youth volunteering. He produces the monthly volunteering round-up blog and supports Volunteers’ Week.

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