Youth social action review stops short of calling for law change

By Tristan Donovan

| 06 February 2018

An independent review into the benefits and barriers to youth social action has advised the government to hold off using legislation to help more young people access full-time volunteering.

Steve Holliday has previously worked with youth charity City Year UK. Picture: City Year UK

The Independent Review of Full-Time Social Action undertaken by Steve Holliday, former chief executive of utility company National Grid, found young people's participation in full-time volunteering for six months or longer could play "a central role" in improving social mobility.

However, he concluded that with only around 1,000 young people volunteering full-time each year in the UK there was too little evidence about the potential benefits to justify changing the law to make it easier for young people to access opportunities.

In addition, the risk of losing benefits puts many disadvantaged young people off full-time volunteering.

Instead, Holliday recommended the creation of a cross-departmental ministerial group to co-ordinate work across government, launching a pilot scheme to grow the evidence base, and proactively advising young people who claim Universal Credit of their right to reduce their job-seeking hours in order to volunteer.

The review, launched in March 2017, defined full-time volunteering as contributing more than 16 hours a week for at least six months.

Youth social action charities, however, were left disappointed by the review.

"The quality of the report is disappointing," said Leo Watson, public affairs manager at youth volunteering charity City Year UK. "Despite acknowledging that the government should do more to support, encourage and recognise full-time volunteers, it hasn't painted a broad enough picture of how youth full-time social action could be successful in a UK context."

"Whilst we at City Year UK hold firm that a legal status is the best way to provide support and recognition for full-time volunteers, the time has come for decisive action. We will work closely with the government to build an enhanced evidence base by implementing some of the more practical recommendations made by Steve Holliday and the panel.

"In particular, establishing a youth full-time social action pilot scheme under the Department for Education's ‘transition years' initiative, building a more formal link with the National Citizen Service and securing government funding through the Dormant Accounts Fund."

Charity Volunteering Matters is also disappointed that the review does not recommend legal changes but said it supported the recommendation that the government keeps the issue under review and does more to improve full-time volunteering opportunities for young people.

"We know from our own recent research that the people who could benefit most from volunteering are too often those who are least likely to participate," said Oonagh Aitken, chief executive of Volunteering Matters.

"An away from home placement for six months can be an exciting opportunity for confident young people with strong family support. But going away and committing for such a long time might be a barrier for young people from less privileged backgrounds."

Aitken added that Volunteering Matters plans to refresh its full-time volunteering offer in March to make it "more attractive to young people from challenging circumstances".

Tracey Crouch, minister for sport and civil society, said: "I'd like to thank Steve Holliday and the panel for their work on this review. We will now study the findings and will provide a response in due course."

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