The Cost of Australia's Emergency Volunteers
15 January 2007 at 9:48 am
The contribution of each volunteer in the response to emergencies across the country is worth an estimated average of $950 a year, according to a new national survey.
The report by Anglicare on behalf of the Australian Emergency Management Volunteer Forum shows volunteers response to a crisis or disaster was worth a total of $4.75 million per year.
But the survey estimates that the individual cost to volunteers who are in full time employment (54%) is as high as $1679 a year – with the cost burden shared by their employers through special leave arrangements, roster flexibility and access to work vehicles or office equipment.
The average cost of volunteering for self- employed people (13%), taking into account direct costs, in kind contributions and business costs is double that again at $3282.
The survey shows calculations on the individual contributions volunteers who are retired (20%) at $687.
The survey formally recognises for the first time the estimated direct financial cost (out-of-pocket expenses) and in-kind contributions (use of personal equipment & resources) of volunteers who give their time in emergencies.
There are more than 500,000 emergency management volunteers working in emergencies such as floods, severe storms, bushfires and other natural disasters, providing assistance at accidents and other life threatening situations – such as surf life saving – and giving personal support to victims and their families.
The survey covered fully employed, self-employed and retired volunteers in the primary emergency services as well as in the Salvation Army, Surf Life Saving Australia, St Vincent de Paul, St John Ambulance, Volunteer Rescue Association, Australian Volunteer Coastguard, Australian Council of State Emergency Services, Anglicare and Adventist Development and Relief Agency Australia.
The survey found not only was there a marked difference in costs to volunteers depending on their employment status, there was also an indications that those on low incomes were making significant contributions to sustain their level of volunteering.
The Anglicare report is based on a national survey carried out from May to July 2006. About 70% of the volunteers were aged between 35-64 years, the respondents were predominantly male (60%) with 44% having a personal income of more than $40,000 per year.
The predominant reasons given for volunteering were altruistic and the main factor inhibiting further volunteering were family and work commitments.
The final break down of the figures show that the average direct financial cost per volunteer, after reimbursements, was $544. The average in-kind contribution per volunteer, after reimbursements, was $406. Therefore the combined average per volunteer is $950 per annum.
Hori Howard, Chair of the Australian Emergency Management Volunteers Forum says anecdotal evidence suggested that the cost of being a volunteer in the emergency sector was high, but before the report there was no idea of the quantum.
Howard says some volunteers have been saying that cost is becoming a limiting factor in their volunteering, and now there are the numbers to support their statements.
He says we must continue to reiterate that volunteers accept that there will be a cost to being a volunteer in the emergency sector, but it must be kept to a reasonable amount. They also absolutely reject any notion of a fee for service, because then they would no longer be volunteers.
Hori Howard says that all they seek is some recognition that they are paying for the privilege of assisting the community when emergencies occur, and are looking for some initiatives to keep the cost down.
The report can be downloaded from www.ema.gov.au