Volunteering policies – helpful of hindrance?


  This article

Volunteering and the concept of Social Capital

refers to a case study analysis of a ‘socially deprived community’ in the North West of England, carried out between 1999-2001 shows how volunteering can be crucial in the development of social capital for some members of the community but for others it presents exclusionary issues. 


Volunteering has many different benefits, in some situations it is seen to be the ‘altruistic’ movement that arises out of the need to support others in times of struggle. Offering your time to help others less fortunate to survive in the face of adversity, this can be broken down even further into two distinct categories. The first as a means of achieving personal goals, perhaps volunteering within an organisation with the motive of gaining employment, alternatively, it may also be a community based method to bond against a common cause that is destructive to the community and therefore offering your support and time would then be to benefit the entire community.
Another aspect of volunteering which seems to be becoming more and more prominent is the use of volunteers as a means of ensuring the survival of organisations under constant threat of closure in times of austerity. Either way it is quite a significant, and some might say imperative part of society on the whole, one that combines needs, wants and unity for the greater good.
Amongst socially excluded groups, the need for mutual aid has an extremely important role. Exclusion from society has many detrimental aspects to it, mortality, significant health issues, hunger, poverty, homelessness, educational issues, to mention but a few, many fuelled by propaganda, media’s misguided misrepresentation which then becomes fear of what is misunderstood. And, perhaps it’s just my glasses that are dirty but when you look at a large number of the more socially excluded groups, the initial reasons for being excluded are because there is an element of previously mentioned fear, lack of understanding and education, and primarily a ‘common difference’ that is evident in say, drug user communities, disabled communities, ethnic/cultural communities, LGBTQ communities, aging communities, etc. The majority are vulnerable due to the afore mentioned detrimental aspects, and, in some circles, blamed for the prevalence of those very same aspects, which in turn promotes further reason for exclusion, ironically instigated by the very same people who implement the lies and propaganda in the first place.
Areas where this form of culture, status and class ‘discrimination’ is most prevalent reflect low social capital, where there are high levels of isolation and a reluctance, or resistance, which transpires negatively resulting in community members being less likely to partake in social activities, or contribute to the economic growth of their surroundings, let alone have any value for political governance. Here is where mutual aid can and does flourish, almost naturally, as if it were, a deeply engrained, human instinct to unite against a common threat and protect each other against further detrimental effects from external sources. Regardless of how this manifests in the community, protests, drug use, violence, crime, the majority of reactions can be whittled down to fear. Fear of further discrimination, fear of lack of support in health matters, hunger, homelessness, higher mortality rates. Fear of further punishment over their reaction to the degradation and ostracised nature of their community. And the more fearful the community become, the more extreme the reactions, and the more isolated they become. Until you are left with a community that has no prospects, no funding, and all relevant support services withdrawn through ‘lack of funding’ due to false economic claims and austerity measures.
Social inequalities in this scenario have increased fatalities, crime statistics, drug use, homelessness, etc, and the answer from our governing bodies and currently non-elected leader is to impose further sanctions, reduce funding, resulting in the closure of support services and build Mega-prisons to punish those who defiantly stand up for their rights, and the rights of others. (I believe In America there is the same principle but they call them FEMA camps) How sad is it that the defence of basic human rights is now a crime. How did we ever let it get to this?


A second model that is quite common is the professional who volunteers their time to offer some form of support, for those less fortunate than themselves. The ‘altruistic do-gooders’ who feel they have a moral obligation to support their fellow human beings in times of distress and adversity. Those, quite possibly, unaffected, or minimally affected, by the social inequalities, but who still have a conscience that compels them to offer their time and support to others. This is, on the surface, a humane and much appreciated approach to providing a plaster that partially stems the flow of life from a gaping wound.
The government openly supported this form of volunteering as part of the big society project by stating that those who in stable employment who were of the nature to offer their time in support would be allowed three days out of their normal work regime to carry out volunteer work in the community. But there is a catch with this kind of volunteering, highlighted in the article….

“An understanding of formal volunteering requires an appreciation of the informal social networking processes going on in the local community”

At risk of seeming partially objective to the volunteers that fit into this form of volunteering I would dare to say that someone who is in employment, healthy, and to a degree secure will not, with sufficient depth or weight, relate to the hardships encountered by those they seek to support. One particular aspect of this volunteering I find unfavourable is the university student who as part of their curriculum seeks a placement in the community to better understand the complexities that are a huge part of their subject matter. Like the law student who might volunteer in a drop-in service with a high prevalence of individuals who have, or still do, commit crime, or possibly an agency primarily supporting children excluded from school for being unruly. The negative impact of this form of volunteering might be that an individual might warm to the attention mistaking it for real concern and, as a result, gain a false hope only to be once again ‘let down’ when the student returns to full time education. This can be detrimental to those who are being ‘studied’ by those studying. Affecting trust, confidence, self-esteem. Personal value and personal security. However, it does have fantastic personal growth potential and adds to the security of a more fortunate future for the student.


This form of volunteering is one that has become quite prominent in addiction circles, where those fortunate to achieve ‘full’ recovery, as part of an amends process, or, as a step towards gaining employment in the field of addiction, remain in the safety bubble of the support network where they found their recovery to give freely of their time to help others through the turmoil of chaotic addiction. This form of volunteering has numerous benefits, and almost as many risks. For many, the concept of giving back toy a society that did nothing but take, quite possibly creating the whole scenario that resulted in your seeking support and guidance in the first place, can be a bitter pill to swallow, one which is eased down the throat by the ever
supportive councillor who crushes down the pill and lubricates the throat by stating that it is part of your program to learn patience, tolerance, forgiveness and accountability.  Well placed guilt trip put heavily on the shoulders of the still fresh and vulnerable recoveree, and, this also, coincidentally, expands the scope for delegating the workload to enable the providers to gain a more realistic possibility of achieving all the key performance indicators set out by commissioners, which they promised to achieve in their tender bid, for a ridiculously low amount of funding. These outcomes quite possibly would be otherwise unachievable without the use of volunteers.
So, realistically, and quite negatively, speaking, volunteers are, in this aspect, quite an imperative part of the overall success of the provider, just as much as the provider may have been an imperative part of the overall success of the individual. This importance and use of volunteers in this process has the added curveball of being equally beneficial to the individual.  Volunteering improves confidence, self-esteem, self-worth, dignity, and empowers people to move forward with a new lease of life, supported by the increased presence of all the afore mentioned skills and attributes promoting a more sustainable recovery journey and making long term success more attainable. Its almost like a ‘fluffy cloud’ form of aftercare.
Another supposed benefit of this volunteering model is that it disciplines you in preparation for the real world, learning skills such as time keeping, team dynamics, routine, etc.
But, there is a downside to this, that goes against the grain, quite drastically, delaying ‘full’ recovery.


Volunteer rights lays out the governments guide to your rights when volunteering. Which are quite basic, not compulsory, and as usual with governmental documents wide open to interpretation. It is flimsy and lays out what you can expect, but is not obligatory and quite often is not honoured by numerous organisations quick to use your services and free time. The level of supervision is normally quite low and if involved in the running of needle exchanges, or similar services within services then there is also the question of clinical supervision. Any training must be relative to the volunteer role, which doesn’t, in my opinion, support the final breakaway into mainstream society, restricting the scope for moving on, and perhaps in some cases delaying the moving on of some people. Although you should be covered by the companies public liability insurance, my experience tells me that this is quite often not the case, in fact, everyday staff are not always covered by this insurance, especially where nonmedical prescribing is concerned, have you checked? And, despite the importance of your valuable time and effort, you are not entitled to any kind of volunteer payments this is more protective of the companies rights and legal situation than it is of your rights and legal situation, which, it has already been established are practically non-existent.
Any payment given for volunteering can be mistaken as a form of contract for services rendered. This in turn blurs the lines should there be a tribunal for any reason. This non-payment clause, expands into any misleading promises or hints that you are working towards any possible employment, or paid work with the company in the future. Something I was lead to believe when I was volunteering was that I was working towards employment, an added bonus, but not why I was volunteering. I might not have stayed as long in the same place, if I’m totally honest, but, the fact I was called a peer supporter rather than a volunteer, effectively
meant I was still classed as a service user, somehow. It took me two years of passionate, uncompromising support to uncover that little gem. All in the title!
So, considering this do the benefits of volunteering actually help or hinder the early stages of an individual’s recovery journey?

A final question which expands on the ‘title’ scenario which although something you may not consider huge, actually makes quite difference, would it make any difference to make a ‘donation’ rather than a payment? A loophole that worked around the legalities of entry fees to support the illegal rave scene. Donations towards future free parties was not illegal whereas payment for entry was.

 Any feedback on this topic would be much appreciated.

Do you have personal experience of volunteering?

  Are you a volunteer manager and have found a way round policy of payment?

How do you show your respect and value for your volunteers?


e-mail: drugactivist@gmail.com

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