7th September 2022

Programme for Government- Volunteer Scotland Response

It is unsurprising and absolutely right that the cost crisis – as described by the Scottish Government - is the main priority in this year’s Programme for Government.

Whilst we are disappointed that volunteering and the Volunteering Action Plan are not explicitly mentioned, we recognise the need to prioritise help for those individuals and organisations at the sharp end of this crisis and welcome wider commitments where volunteers can have a key contribution.

We support the many financial measures announced to help those individuals most affected by this crisis. Volunteers themselves are not immune to the pressures of rising costs, and we are concerned that many people will experience increasing barriers to volunteering when faced with difficult decisions.

Volunteers were undoubtedly on the frontline during the Covid-19 pandemic and are fulfilling a similar role in the cost crisis. They are providing support and advice to struggling families, as well as facilitating access to basic necessities like food and heat. We also know that many organisations engaging volunteers in such services are currently facing a perfect storm – increasing demand for services, increasing costs and reducing budgets.

We are pleased that the Programme for Government acknowledges, on several occasions, that third sector organisations are facing significant financial challenges at present. Many volunteer involving organisations were reporting pressure on resources in a Scottish Government survey last year – a situation that is likely to have become more acute in the current climate. The support on offer to the third sector remains unclear from the Programme for Government, however, and we would welcome more detail on targeted assistance for the third sector given the unique challenges it faces.

Over and above provisions directly related to the cost crisis, we welcome the ongoing commitment to establishing a wellbeing economy. Plans to establish a National Care Service which prioritises person-centred and integrated care are appreciated, and we are pleased to see that plans for a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy and a Suicide Prevention Strategy feature also. However, as detailed in our recent consultation responses on these issues, it is vital that the role of the third sector and volunteers is reflected in decision-making.

The commitment towards becoming a Fair Work nation will, we believe, help to increase volunteer participation in Scotland. Better and more sustainable wages, coupled with a commitment to improved workplace wellbeing, will mean that more people have the time and energy to experience and enjoy the many benefits volunteering brings. Again, however, this will only be realised if the important role of volunteering is reflected in these ambitions.

Finally, we are pleased to see actions detailed to boost community resilience and address inequality. Sixty-four percent of Scotland’s population volunteered their time at some point during the pandemic, demonstrating just how resilient our communities already are in times of crisis. The £75 million investment in place-based initiatives is welcome, so long as the voluntary and communities’ sectors are meaningfully engaged in exploring how to maximise the impact. Indeed, it is often groups of volunteers that adopt responsibility for community spaces and it is vital that they have the knowledge and support required to do so sustainably.

So, whilst it is disappointing that the Volunteering Action Plan is not explicitly mentioned, it is possible to read between the lines and see how the vital role of volunteers fits into the Scottish Government’s agenda for 2022-23.