Work, social and family commitments, coupled with their own mental health and fewer opportunities in some areas due to lower expenditure on youth services block many young people from volunteering, a report has found.
Volunteering Journeys – a review from the Institute for Community Studies commissioned by DCMS, was published last week. Through research with 650 11-30 year olds around the UK, it examines how young people perceive and experience the UK’s current volunteering ‘offer’, and how it could be reshaped to strengthen and sustain their participation.
Lack of support
It found that young people can lack the support they need to volunteer depending on where they live, with the average net expenditure on youth services reportedly £62 per head in urban areas, compared to £47 per head in rural areas. This ‘postcode lottery’ means opportunities to volunteer are offered inconsistently between regions, education institutions, and workplaces.
The findings also suggest that the citizenship curriculum lacks impact. Out of 125 reflections from young people on what sparked their engagement with volunteering, only one mentioned citizenship education.
Triple personal burden
But another key concern is the triple burden young people face of balancing volunteering with paid work, social and family commitments, and their own mental health. The report identifies mental health in particular an emerging barrier to sustained engagement, and the most recurrently intervening factor for 16-18 year olds and 21-24 year olds. Global and national events are impacting the confidence and emotional security of young people, particularly in the older, post 18 years age group. Burnout is also an issue for young people – particularly when volunteering activity is closely linked to issues of personal identity and the desire to make a difference.
The findings suggest a more flexible approach is needed with a greater emphasis on young people’s agency in shaping their own volunteering pathways, and an integrated approach that increases the impact of young people’s volunteering experiences by linking programmes and initiatives with each other, and considering the transitions between them.
Emily Morrison, Head of the Institute for Community Studies, commented:
“The hybrid ways in which young people participate in volunteering, their motivations for engaging with it, and the ‘triple burden’ barriers they face, have changed significantly over the years. We need to develop policies and support frameworks that acknowledge and respond to this, if we are to grow a sustained volunteering base for the future – and if we are to maximise the benefits of volunteering to young people as individuals, to their local communities, and to society more broadly.”