Volunteering & Social Exclusion - UK Study
19 July 2004 at 1:07 pm
Exploring the link between volunteering and social exclusion is a new study by the UK Institute of Volunteering Research.
According to the Institute, the question of whether volunteering is inclusive, and the broader link between volunteering and social exclusion, has been a key theme for the volunteering movement in the recent times.
It says this is particularly so in the light of the growing realisation that while all types of people volunteer, some people are more likely to volunteer than others – at least as far as formal volunteering is concerned.
The report summarises the findings of its research, undertaken to explore this issue. It looked at what volunteering can do to reduce social exclusion, the challenges faced in making volunteering more inclusive and the steps taken by organisations in overcoming these barriers.
The report highlights the barriers to formal volunteering faced by individuals from black and minority ethnic (BME) groups, disabled people, and people with a record of offence (ex-offenders) – all of whom have been identified as being under-represented in formal volunteering and as being at risk of social exclusion.
Some 98 organisations, 203 volunteers, and 40 non-volunteers took part in the research which also included case studies with selected organisations including 78 in-depth interviews with staff and volunteers as well as focus groups.
Key findings from the research
Is volunteering too exclusive?
– Fewer than half of the organisations surveyed said they had enough volunteers, and a majority said that members of BME groups, disabled people and ex-offenders were under-represented among their volunteers.
– A range of psychological and practical barriers to volunteering was identified. While the organisations focused more on the practical barriers, the individuals felt the psychological barriers were more damaging.
– Volunteering still appears to have something of an image problem, which puts some people off getting involved. In particular, myths exist which equate volunteering with activities undertaken by certain ‘mainstream’ groups within society; and a narrow range of activities within formal organisational settings.
– Among people from BME groups volunteering was common, but was often undertaken on an informal basis. It was not volunteering itself that was exclusive, but certain kinds of formal activity.
– Some of the disabled people had chosen to reject what they saw as the ‘traditional’ model of volunteering based on a ‘helper and helped’ power relationship, which they felt had cast disabled people as passive recipients of help, rather than as active volunteers in their own right.
– Rather than offering an alternative model of volunteering, the ex-offenders were generally more vague about what volunteering entailed, or felt that it had little relevance to their lives.
– People’s perceptions of time – both of the amount of their ‘spare’ time available and the time demands of volunteering – created barriers to involvement. This was particularly problematic for some disabled people when the nature of their impairment made committing to regular schedules difficult, and for some ex-offenders who found it hard to sign up to regimented activities.
– Lack of confidence was found to be a key barrier. It was exacerbated for individuals who had experienced exclusion in other areas of life, and when volunteering took place in unfamiliar environments.
– Other people’s attitudes also created barriers. The perception (rightly or wrongly) that organisations would not welcome them puts some people off volunteering; this was particularly true among ex-offenders.
– A fear of losing welfare benefits was found to be a significant barrier to volunteering.
If you would like an electronic version of the summary of findings in PDF format just send and email to firstname.lastname@example.org and write “Volunteering for All UK” in the subject heading.