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Charities Aid Foundation

Manifestos mustn’t forget the value of volunteering

15 May 2017

Today’s election focus is on worker’s rights with the Conservative Party putting forward a number of proposals, including giving employees the ability to take time off to care for family members. The full details will be revealed when their manifesto is published – presumably later this week – but are thought to give employees a right to take up to a year’s unpaid leave to provide care, with the guarantee of being able to return to their job.

At present, over seven million people in the UK are believed to act as unpaid carers, often to a family member. This is just one of the ways in which volunteering serves to take pressures off public services. However, acting as a carer isn’t easy and many of those who do support a loved one of this way report that it has an impact on their mental health, or on their ability to maintain a full-time job.

Policies that help develop a culture of volunteering are welcomed, whether it is to specially support carers such as in this instance, or more broadly. Government has an important role in facilitating an environment that allows volunteering to flourish, and political parties should use this week – which we assume will be ‘manifesto week’ – to go further and set out the action that they would take in order to get more people giving their time.

At the last election, one of the Conservative Party’s more eye-catching proposals was to give employees across public sector or at larger businesses up to three paid days of leave each year to take to be used for volunteering. Although this received a lukewarm reception from business leaders, it would help to meet the rising demand amongst employees for more opportunities to get involved in volunteering through their workplace.

As the divide between a person’s work and personal life becomes less pronounced, employees leading busy lives are keen to have opportunities to support good causes through their work. This benefits employers too, as it increases an employee’s loyalty and their productivity, whilst also helping them to develop skills such as leadership, and working as part of a team.

Whether the Conservative Party recommits itself to this policy idea in this year’s manifesto will be determined in the coming days, but it is to be hoped that all parties look at what action can be taken to develop volunteering. Too often, the focus on expanding volunteering is overly on young people and retirees, audiences that are viewed as time-rich. However working people have a lot to offer too, and broader discussions about employee rights should include a focus on how they can be given opportunities they care about too.