Supporting young people to get involved: Reflections on the full time social action review

Shaun Delaney is volunteering development manager at NCVO

On Saturday, Steve Holliday released his Independent Review of Full Time Social Action (pdf, 4.6MB). This review looked into young people (aged 16-25) giving over 16 hours a week or more, for six months or more, to social action activities. The review starts by confirming what we are all probably thinking – social action is a good thing. It gives skills and confidence to young people, gives creativity and capacity to organisations, and it boosts communities, employment and the economy. There doesn’t seem to be a downside – and we agree! And it’s great to see this topic being discussed at a ministerial level.

The youth sector was like a second home to me. Since I’ve been involved in a lot of volunteering with various charities from Save the Children to vInspired, Youth Employment UK to Young Women’s Trust. Both before, during, and after university I did different volunteering which would help me build my skills and experience for my future career….

Young woman, aged 22

Improving all forms of social action

Social action includes a wide range of voluntary activity – and the review gives some clear pointers on how we can build on what already exists. However, you’d be forgiven for thinking that these look familiar. It’s true – barriers including a lack of awareness of opportunities, funding and recognition apply to many forms of social action. This is one of the review’s key strengths. It isn’t reinventing the world of social action, but giving sensible, practical steps that are familiar to us, adapting them to the world of full time social action. Steps that we fully support.

But isn’t it just for rich kids?

Well, no – or at least it shouldn’t be. But one familiar barrier to participation rears its head again with both young people and organisations saying full time social action is only for those who can afford it.

…I was soft-homeless throughout my 6 months at the charity, sofa-surfing with friends, family and sleeping in the office. I ran up a significant amount of debt which has taken a long time to undo, and disconnected with family and friends… I do not regret the time I spent volunteering, but would personally not recommend anyone take a voluntary position unless they have significant financial backing or they are going to be adequately supported by the charity or otherwise.”

Young man, aged 20

The review does tackle this head on, calling on businesses to give lunch and transport to young people involved in schemes. It also calls on the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to support job coaches to explain how young people can reduce the hours they have to spend on job searches, to undertake work-boosting volunteering. The recommendations on greater clarity for job centres are especially welcome. Young people are often unsure of their rights around volunteering while job-seeking, and NCVO has been calling for better support for job coaches for some time.

Is more better?

We’re big believers in social action being a good thing, but does more always mean better? The evidence isn’t clear. The review calls for more research into this topic and this is something we welcome. It’s clear that the review does see the potential here – suggesting “intuitively, the more a young person engages in voluntary activity, the greater the impact will be”. We would suggest caution here. Rather than ‘more is better’, it feels more intuitive that we’ll reach a tipping point where asking for more hours would be bad for the young person. Before we assume that 16 hours is that tipping point for all young people, and create new legal structures to formalise this, we need to understand this more. Until then, we think it is better to focus on widening access to all young people to all forms of volunteering, rather than focusing on one area and assuming it is right for all.

What next?

We are pleased to see recommendations to properly embed National Citizen Service (NCS) within broader social action journeys. The NCS programme has worthwhile aims and has delivered much for young people. Even so, it’s place in the broader voluntary sector has come under question. Following on from its recent work with the Scouts, we welcome attempts to create better relationships and pathways before and after NCS participation, to make it easier for young people to become active citizens beyond the NCS programme.

As for us, we look forward to working with the Association of Volunteer Managers, NNVIA, V-Inspired and Volunteering Matters to develop guidance for voluntary organisations supporting young people in social action.

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Shaun is volunteering development manager at NCVO, overseeing strategy for volunteer management and good practice. Previously, he was head of volunteering at Samaritans and is currently a volunteer trustee of Greater London Volunteering.

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