Volunteering & Unemployed People
Tuesday, 9th August 2005 at 1:08 pm
Volunteering can benefit long-term unemployed people, not only by equipping them with skills that facilitate workforce re-entry, but also for a range of social and psychological reasons,according to social policy researcher Marc Levy from Melbourne University.
Levy presented a paper called “For love or money: volunteering and unemployed people” at the recent Australian Social Policy Conference 2005.
Levy explained that income support recipients can meet their participation and mutual obligation (MO) requirements by signing up for the Voluntary Work Initiative (VWI), delivered by Volunteering Australia, Community Work, which is facilitated by Commonwealth-funded Community Work Coordinators, or Work for the Dole.
He says that in the past decade, hundreds of thousands of unemployed people have been involved in these and other volunteering and community participation programs.
His paper to the Conference explored three questions:
1. Do these programs compromise voluntary principles or the value unemployed people get from volunteering?
2. If these programs do present such compromises, does the end – more unemployed people getting a volunteer-like experience – justify the means?
3. Based on the above, what kind of volunteering program might work best for unemployed people in the future?
Levy says that community participation constitutes a significant proportion of the permissible activities jobless people can perform to ‘earn the right’ to income support and other benefits, and a large part of the volunteering unemployed people do is via MO volunteering and community participation.
Therefore he says any analysis of the value that unemployed people get from volunteering must consider MO programs and contemplate the impact of compulsion.
Levy says that MO is among the most important social policy phenomena of the last thirty years and it is a central plank in the Australian, US and UK welfare regimes, among others.
Nevertheless, Levy points out that choice is a central tenet of volunteering and the capacity to exercise it may be an important precondition for realising the benefits of volunteering.
He says choice is preserved in a manner under MO; however, MO choice is not real choice. MO volunteering is obligatory and contractual– where the power between the contracting parties is asymmetrical – and its rationale has been labelled theoretically confused and paternalistic.
Levy says that it is widely acknowledged that volunteering, and volunteering for unemployed people, is under-researched in Australia. Much of the limited body of knowledge on this topic has focused on public perceptions of MO and W4D, impacts of MO on Not for Profits and patterns of participation in these programs.
Ultimately, a firm view on which characterisation is more compelling and what policy prescription will be most beneficial to unemployed people requires more research.
Levy outlines future research methodology in his full report to the Australian Social Policy Conference which can be downloaded at http://www.sprc1.sprc.unsw.edu.au/aspc2005/abstract.asp?PaperID=179