Government must help preserve the upsurge in volunteering from pandemic and its benefits for social integration, says new APPG report
Action is needed to avoid a drop-off in the high levels of volunteering fostered during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has significant benefits for social connection, says a new report from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Social Integration.
The report, ‘Building stronger communities in post-pandemic Britain’, calls for a new push to reduce barriers to volunteering and encourage younger and more diverse groups to offer their time. It recommends that a promotional pack, encouraging volunteering, be sent to all school-leavers, new British citizens and the newly retired. A ‘volunteer passport’ scheme would record activity and offer incentives. All children and young people should also be given the opportunity to volunteer during their years in formal education.
The report presents the findings of an inquiry carried out by the APPG during the COVID-19 pandemic. Its focus was on stronger and more connected communities, with a particular emphasis on the role of volunteering and of business as a major stakeholder in local communities and in people’s lives. The inquiry collected evidence from a wide range of stakeholders, covering business representatives, community and voluntary organisations as well as national bodies with an interest in social integration and connection.
Volunteering can be a driver of social integration, the Inquiry found. It heard evidence that volunteering had created new connections between people of different ethnic, faith and social backgrounds. Groups that were previously less engaged in community action – young people, people with disabilities and minority ethnic groups – had become increasingly involved.
An estimated 4.6 million people volunteered for the first time during the pandemic, of whom 3.8 million said they would consider volunteering again, according to the Talk Together research project. There are concerns, however, that volunteering may drop off as people come off furlough and return to more ‘normal’ work and social patterns.
Peter Gibson MP, Chair of the Social Integration APPG, said:
“The surge in volunteering was one of the positives to come out of the pandemic. Millions of people helped their neighbours and communities.
“Covid changed the profile of the ‘typical’ volunteer. Many people from younger and more diverse backgrounds stepped forward, often for the first time, creating new connections and aiding integration by breaking down barriers.
“This new community spirit risks being lost as work and social patterns return to normal. However, with support from the Government, businesses and civil society, we can seize this opportunity to transform volunteering – and in doing so help build more cohesive, connected communities.”
The new report also acknowledges the positive role played by businesses of all sizes in supporting communities during the pandemic – for example by donating to food banks, tackling scams, helping to address digital exclusion or encouraging employee volunteering. The APPG calls for a high-profile government campaign, fronted by business ambassadors, to highlight the business case for social connection, volunteering and community involvement.