20 February 2004
The government is considering giving extra financial support to young people who help out in their communities, it emerged this week.
Addressing the National Council for Voluntary Organisations' annual conference on February 18, Chancellor Gordon Brown said next month's Budget would contain details of incentives to support people who are prepared to volunteer, which might take the form of help with living expenses or higher education costs. He added that the government intended to consult with the voluntary sector to develop ways to encourage more young people to get involved in voluntary work.
'I believe we must look at new and innovative ways of helping. In the US, some firms give their employees a week off for voluntary work. In other places, the expenses of volunteers are paid, and in some places the tax system works to make things easier,' Brown said.
Although he refused to give away any funding details ahead of the Budget, the chancellor said grants and loans from the £125m Futurebuilders fund would become available from the summer to build capacity in the voluntary sector. He added that the Home Office was finalising work on a capacity and infrastructure framework to help improve skills, performance management and governance within charities.
Brown's speech coincided with publication of NCVO research that showed government money has overtaken private donations as the single largest source of voluntary sector funding, as charities take on more public service contracts.
According to the NCVO, public money now makes up 37% of the sector's £20.8bn income, compared with 36.6% from personal donations and just 4.3% from business. However, given the overall rise in public service expenditure, the proportion of money going to the charities has fallen slightly in the past two years.
NCVO chief executive Stuart Etherington said the voluntary sector provided a vital 'safety net' for vulnerable people. 'It does this by both playing an increasingly important role in the delivery of public services and constantly campaigning for changes in government policies and public opinion,' he said.
But he added that it was important that the sector's independence was not compromised by closer partnership with government.
Brown said ministers had no intention of diluting charities' self-governance. 'Governments should have the humility to recognise that voluntary organisations can provide solutions that governments cannot offer,' he said. 'The great strength of voluntary action – and why we should value [its] independence – is [its] capacity for the individual and unique, rather than the impersonal or standardised approach.'