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Volunteering (Young People)

Volume 482: debated on Wednesday 12 November 2008

The Government are investing £117 million in youth volunteering in the next three years through the organisation v. This is the biggest ever investment in youth volunteering and v has so far created 750,000 volunteering opportunities. The Office of the Third Sector also provides funding to YouthNet UK, the National Youth Agency, Youth Action Network and the British Youth Council, which will provide youth volunteering opportunities.

I thank the Minister for that response. Although progress has been made, it is still very much the case that children from poorer families are less likely to be able to volunteer to do internships or a gap year working in the community before going on to further study. They lack the contacts, the confidence or, in many cases, the finance to do so. Will the Minister tell the House what more is being done to ensure that the opportunity to volunteer is made available to everybody?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Volunteering is an extremely important part of social mobility and opportunities. Volunteering in our most deprived communities is important to building up our young people’s aspirations and the skills that are available to them, which is why we are making the investments that I have mentioned. As she mentioned gap years, she will be interested to know that the Department for International Development is investing £10 million to enable 18 to 25-year-olds to volunteer for 10 weeks overseas. The Platform 2 project, as it is called, is aimed at those who would otherwise not have that opportunity.

As the Minister will know, with a former Defence Minister, the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson), on his right, many young volunteers in the community are from the cadet forces. May I encourage the Minister to liaise with Defence Ministers as part of Cadet 150 to ensure that the right funding is found for the Sea Cadet Corps, the Air Training Corps and the Army Cadet Force?

Let me take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Cadet Corps and the great job that they did on Remembrance Sunday and in the recent important commemorations. I can confirm that the Government fully support the Cadet Corps. Indeed, my previous post was in the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and we did a great deal to promote the cadet forces through our schools, and I will certainly be happy to liaise with colleagues in the Ministry of Defence on the issue.

I am a patron of TimeBank, one of the great volunteering organisations in the United Kingdom. Will the Minister confirm that the research so far suggests that those who are out of work but volunteer then get back into work more quickly than any other group of people?

Yes. I recently met representatives of TimeBank, and I commend my hon. Friend for his work. Volunteering is extremely important to getting people back into work, in terms of both aspiration and skills. Volunteering can form an important part of getting people back into work quickly and maintaining momentum in social mobility. I speak from personal experience: when I left university in 1982, at a time of high unemployment, the first thing that I did was volunteer in what would now be called a social enterprise. I can confirm that doing so helped me to get the confidence and skills to get into paid employment quickly.

I should like to follow up on that comment. The Minister will know that many young people who will be graduating from school and university will be aware that they are not going to get work in this economic climate. What is he doing with the voluntary sector to step up volunteering opportunities for those young people, so that they are not disillusioned and can at least gain some experience and strengthen their CVs?[Official Report, 19 November 2008, Vol. 483, c. 1MC.]

I would recommend volunteering as an option for people leaving university who are not immediately moving into work. As I have said, the investment that the Government are making in v, which has already been matched with more than £33 million from the private sector, with, I understand, more to come in an announcement in December, will play a big role in getting young people into those volunteering opportunities. As I have said, v has already identified more than 750,000 opportunities for young people.

I recently attended an event in Tipton in my constituency, which was organised by V Flex and designed to promote volunteering in local charities and schools. Will the Minister undertake to assess the progress and outcomes of such events, with a view to rolling out best practice in the rest of the country?

I commend my hon. Friend for attending that event and taking such a close interest. I will certainly be happy to talk with him and hear what his perspective on that event was and to take a look at the success of such events throughout the country.

What does the Minister think will be the impact of a deep recession on attitudes to volunteering? What assurance can he give the House about the Government’s commitment to coming forward with measures to support charities and voluntary organisations that are suffering liquidity and cash-flow problems as a result of the banking crisis? They could be forced to cut services just when they are most needed.

It is clearly a challenging time for the third sector, and there are complex issues to address. Any Government response should be well considered, planned and executed. The hon. Gentleman will know, because the Prime Minister, in last week’s Question Time, answered his question by saying that the Government were considering a number of measures in response to the third sector, given the economic circumstances. I can confirm that the Office of the Third Sector within the Cabinet Office is working closely with Treasury officials to develop a package of support measures for charities that will be outlined later this month after the pre-Budget report. I can also confirm that I will be co-chairing a sector-wide summit with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations on 24 November.