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House of Lords Hansard
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Volunteering: Young People
11 July 2016
Volume 774

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to promote long-term, full-time volunteering among young people.

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The Government are committed to ensuring that young people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to engage in meaningful social action, creating a lifelong habit and developing skills for work. We support Step Up To Serve’s #iwill campaign, which is backed by a wide coalition of organisations offering a range of opportunities, including full-time volunteering. The Cabinet Office’s pledge to the #iwill campaign is to continue to invest in social action and to share evidence and best practice.

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I thank my noble friend the Minister for her reply. The National Citizen Service has been one of the Government’s most notable successes, offering tens of thousands of young people the opportunity to take part in meaningful social action projects around the UK. With a new Prime Minister possibly only days away, can my noble friend reassure the House that the Government’s commitment to the NCS programme remains undimmed and that the Bill we were promised in the Queen’s Speech will come before Parliament soon?

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I can certainly say that the Government remain committed to the National Citizen Service and to introducing a Bill which will give the NCS permanence, ensure the independence of the trust and improve its accountability to Parliament, and, importantly, create a duty on schools and local authorities to promote the National Citizen Service so that more young people can have access to it.

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My Lords, until very recently, I was the chairman of Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. We had more than 5,000 staff delivering a high-quality service in these challenging times but we could not have delivered those services without the 500-plus volunteers who came in day in, day out. Many of those volunteers have been there for 20, 30 or even 40 years. But what we were increasingly missing were young people coming into the system to help—and possibly develop careers in the NHS. Could the Government could come together with NHS England and Public Health England to provide some resources to encourage young people to take up some of these volunteering posts, which are very much needed in the NHS today?

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We certainly want to encourage volunteering across a whole range of sectors. The Step Up To Serve #iwill campaign, which I mentioned earlier, aims to increase by 50% the number of 10 to 20 year-olds taking part in youth social action by 2020. I also assure the noble Lord that through the National Citizen Service a lot of groups are indeed working with the health service. For instance, a group built a sensory awareness garden in a Weymouth care home; in Merseyside a group raised funds for awareness of the Huntington’s Disease Association; and in Reading a group devised and ran a disability awareness campaign. There is a link-up with the health service through a number of campaigns that are going on, and we would like to see that continue.

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My Lords, bearing in mind the more than 1 million young people—ethnically very diverse and from every part of the country—in Church of England schools, will the Minister authorise a direct conversation with the national society about the virtues of volunteering, with a view to joint action, a joint strategy and disseminating good practice?

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First, I wish the right reverend Prelate a happy birthday. Certainly, the Government are very keen to work with as many partners as possible. We are doing this through the Step Up To Serve #iwill campaign. We are working with organisations such as City Year UK, vInspired and Volunteering Matters, and we would be happy to work with any organisation that would like to help us deliver this really important social agenda.

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In order to get the most from volunteering, it is essential that employers and educational institutions recognise the skills and experience that young people acquire through high-quality social action. I wonder what consideration the Government have given to creating a legal status for voluntary service years similar to that in the United States, in order to support volunteering schemes such as those run by City Year UK, which the Minister has just mentioned.

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We are very committed to ensuring that young people in particular undertake social action because we know the impact it can have. For instance, 90% of National Citizen Service participants felt more positive about people from different backgrounds; seven in 10 felt more confident about getting a job; 80% have learned something new about themselves; and 90% felt the NCS had helped them develop key skills for the future. It is obviously extremely important both personally but also to the local communities that these young people live in. Of course, a number of organisations that I have mentioned already offer a year in volunteering, so that option is available to young people if they wish to take it up.

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Will the Minister look into the effect of CRB checks on volunteering? She will be aware that CRB checks are largely illusory and very often ineffective, because they check people with records but not with tendencies. The complexity of the CRB system is preventing a great many people volunteering. Queues of people want to join the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides and the lack of volunteers through the hold-up of CRB checks is having a very deleterious effect, quite unnecessarily, on the whole volunteering area. Will the Minister look into this with a view to speeding up the process?

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We are very keen to try to address any barriers that we find in relation to volunteering. That and many other issues raised by organisations are on our radar so that we can make sure that organisations that want to take on volunteers, those who rely on volunteers and young people themselves can access this important area.

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My Lords, we would welcome a Bill placing the National Citizen Service on a voluntary footing, but does the Minister acknowledge that the NCS needs to be properly funded and that the Bill should also include support for the work of both local authority services and key charities such as vInspired, which recruit and work with young people to help them translate their volunteering hours into job skills, employment and training?

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I agree that this is an area that needs funding, which is why we have committed over £1 billion to expand the National Citizen Service programme to cover 60% of all 16 and 17 year-olds by 2021. What is most important is that all young people can access it, which is why, as a result of Government backing, it costs £50 or less to participate in NCS, but support and bursaries are available to those who cannot afford to pay, so that we can ensure that all young people are able to access the National Citizen Service.