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Active ageingVoluntary work by older people in Europe$

Andrea Principi, Per H. Jensen, and Giovanni Lamura

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9781447307204

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447307204.001.0001

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Older Volunteers in England: Towards Greater Flexibility and Inclusiveness?

Older Volunteers in England: Towards Greater Flexibility and Inclusiveness?

Chapter:
(p.119) SIX Older Volunteers in England: Towards Greater Flexibility and Inclusiveness?
Source:
Active ageing
Author(s):

Robert Lindley

Beate Baldauf

Sheila Galloway

Yuxin Li

Publisher:
Policy Press
DOI:10.1332/policypress/9781447307204.003.0006

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on volunteering by older people in England. It summarises briefly the tradition of volunteering and the legal framework governing the sector and then examines the nature and scope of volunteering, generally and that of older people in particular. The opportunities for and barriers to volunteering in later life are considered. More flexible opportunities for working and volunteering may offer positive mutual reinforcement regarding older volunteer supply if allowance is made for their aggregate overall effects over the future rather than concentrating on the fates of individual strategies to cope with multiple activities largely in the present. How organisational policies might adapt to improve the alignment between the preferences of older people and the volunteering opportunities available is explored.

Keywords:   Volunteering, England, older people, opportunities, barriers, preferences, organisational policies, flexibility, inclusiveness

Introduction

The UK voluntary sector comprises over 160,000 registered organisations, contributing roughly £12 billion (€14 billion) or 0.8 per cent of UK gross value added (GVA) (Clark et al, 2012).1 However, measuring the size of the sector in official terms (that is, according to rules followed by national accounts statisticians) fails to capture the value of the ‘unmeasured output’ contributed by volunteers. Often described as the ‘lifeblood’ of the charitable sector, about 20 million people in the UK volunteer formally at least once a year, amounting to about 40 per cent of the adult population (DCLG, 2011a). Taking just those volunteering at least once a month, this represents an economic value of £23 billion (€28 billion) if volunteers were to be replaced by paid staff (Clark et al, 2012). Although most volunteers provide unpaid help to voluntary sector organisations, volunteering also takes place in the public and private sectors. And some volunteers participate in employer-supported volunteering schemes.

The range of activities of these organisations and the motives of volunteers behind engaging in them are varied. Rochester et al (2010) observe that the ‘conceptual map’ of volunteering is broader than the type of activity that dominates public discussion, namely, volunteering in the area of social care, presumed to be driven by altruistic motives. The map also includes ‘activism’ (mutual aid, self-help or campaigning for changes in provision concerning a wide range of public policy areas) and ‘serious leisure’ (typically in areas such as the arts, culture, sport and recreation) where self-expressive or intrinsic motives prevail. Indeed, whereas by far the largest group of registered voluntary organisations is engaged in social services, followed by culture and recreation, and religion, survey data indicate that the highest levels (p.120) of volunteering can be found in sports, hobbies and the arts (DCLG, 2011b), which are mainly associated with ‘serious leisure’.

The voluntary sector has grown substantially over the last decade, both in terms of financial turnover and employment, but the rate of participation in volunteering changed only slightly overall, increasing during the first half of the decade and then falling back. The growth of the sector has been particularly fuelled by the increase in public contracting-out of services to private profit-making and non-profit organisations. Relationships between the three groups have become complex, and there has been an accompanying research interest into the identities of and values underpinning the voluntary sector during this transition (Alcock, 2010).

However, while much has happened to the voluntary sector, our focus here is on volunteering, particularly by older people. Their experiences have been given far less attention than those of the organisations themselves; the same is true of the rest of Europe, in contrast to the US (Principi et al, 2012). Thus, this chapter does not offer a general treatment of developments in the English voluntary sector or in volunteering. Nor does it cover the journey taken by the policy discourse from ‘voluntary sector’ to ‘third sector’ to ‘civil society’ (HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office, 2007; Office for Civil Society, 2010; Milbourne and Cushman, 2012; Taylor et al, 2012). These changing orientations of policy and in the relationships between ‘the sector’ and governments have had implications for older volunteers, but these are best handled in terms of their more direct effects. This means that significant parts of policy and research in the voluntary field lie outside the scope of this chapter, as do the theoretical perspectives.

While the voluntary sector goes well beyond the provision of support for those in need, the fostering of social well-being is a core element of its activities. This then brings it into interaction with the public welfare system. The welfare regime in England has been described as ‘liberal’ because of its supposedly ‘residual’ nature due to the predominance of means-tested, modest levels of benefit, and the encouragement of market solutions to welfare provision. This is in contrast to approaches that offer greater rights to welfare or ‘degrees of decommodification’ for those who cannot afford what the market would otherwise supply (Esping-Andersen, 1990).

It is often assumed that low degrees of de-commodification leave unmet needs among disadvantaged people that encourage the formation of voluntary organisations aiming to address them. Moreover, when governments cease or reduce their provision of some (p.121) such services, debate often ensues both about the extent to which the voluntary sector has the capacity to step in and about whether or not it should in fact do so.

Alongside the liberal welfare regime lies the labour market. Although in a European Union (EU) context the UK is seen to have a relatively deregulated, flexible labour market, there is a substantial floor of common EU regulation co-existing with a high employment rate among older workers and relatively high labour force participation among women. Anti-age discrimination has been brought within the comprehensive treatment of the Equality Act 2010.

Caring responsibilities can affect participation both in the labour market and in voluntary work, constricting, or, in some respects, stimulating the latter, depending on the nature and scope of the caring responsibilities. The predominant family care model in England is still that of the male breadwinner with women working part time and undertaking the main carer role. Mothers with a dependent child often take up a part-time job, yet the percentage of mothers working full time has increased since the late 1990s (ONS, 2011).

The voluntary sector's wide range of activities already includes older volunteers in many areas (DCLG, 2011b). How far participation from older people can be enhanced so as to reap the benefits they bring to both others and themselves is considered later in this chapter. Two key ingredients to achieving this, however, seem to be the promotion of ‘flexibility’ and ‘inclusiveness’ in developing the older volunteer force. The interpretations of these concepts and reasons for identifying them as being important are also developed in this chapter.

Volunteering is one of the areas of public policy responsibility devolved to the constituent four nations that form the UK. This chapter focuses on volunteering by older people in England (about 84 per cent of the UK population). However, some data are available/ published only for the UK or Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland). The remainder of this section summarises very briefly the tradition of the voluntary sector and the legal framework currently affecting it. The next section expands on the nature and scope of volunteering, looking at participation in volunteering generally and that of older people in particular. The third section investigates opportunities for and barriers to volunteering in later life. The fourth section explores how the preferences of older people and volunteering opportunities could be better aligned. The chapter ends with some concluding reflections.

(p.122) The English Tradition of Voluntary Action

Looking for the roots of modern voluntary activity devoted to the relief of poverty and the broader promotion of social welfare leads back to the late Middle Ages (indeed, earlier; see Davis Smith, 1995), and the emergence of charitable practices and ways of organising mutual aid associated with monasteries, guilds, brotherhoods and hospitals for the infirm. Yet while these were undoubtedly concerned with alleviating social distress, the extent of both corruption of intended purposes and compulsion of ‘voluntary commitment’ was quite extensive within the structures of both church and state.

The two centuries up to the formation of the post-war welfare state in the late 1940s (Beveridge, 1948) displayed most of the attitudes towards the disadvantaged, the dilemmas in designing policy and the shakiness of its implementation that are associated with present-day experience. During this period, the voluntary sector acted in partnership with the state but, from the late 19th century, experienced major changes in its role and in the framework within which it operated. The state began to regulate parts of the sector, notably the charities and friendly societies, at the same time as drawing on the sector to administer parts of the emerging state welfare provision (Harris, 2010). Different elements of the latter took over some of the functions that had hitherto been carried out by the voluntary sector on a partial basis: notably, unemployment insurance, schooling, health and social care, and pensions. Eventually, the so-called ‘mixed economy of welfare’ was progressively colonised by the state in the interests of consistency of access to and quality of provision.

Coming to the present day, the Charity Commission (2008, p 8) recognises specific areas as being for charitable purposes, including the ‘prevention or relief of poverty’ and the advancement of ‘education’, ‘religion’; ‘health or the saving of lives’; ‘citizenship or community development’; ‘the arts, culture, heritage or science’; and ‘amateur sport’.

Only about a quarter of all voluntary sector organisations receive funding from statutory sources (contracts or grants). Moreover, the amount of funding the charitable sector attracts from statutory sources varies widely by sub-sector, with social services attracting one of the highest shares. Furthermore, there has been an important shift within statutory funding, with an absolute and relative increase of funding from statutory contracts for public service delivery during 2003/04 to 2009/10 at the expense of grant funding as voluntary organisations chose to bid for specific funding opportunities (Clark et al, 2012).

(p.123) However, in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, both streams of UK public spending were subject to major reductions in planned levels that began to come into effect particularly with the formation of the 2010 Coalition government.

The legal framework

The main areas of the law that affect volunteering are those that deal with (1) the legal basis of the organisation for tax and public liability purposes (according to its status as a public body or agency, private company or partnership, charity, etc); (2) employment law as it applies to employees; (3) employment law as it is extended to volunteers;

(4) the social security rights of voluntary workers; (5) the regulation of certain areas of activity, notably, to working in a paid or voluntary capacity with vulnerable groups (for example, children in general and vulnerable adults such as those with learning difficulties); and

(6) equality legislation governing the provision of goods and services (see Restall, 2005, in relation to items 2-5).

However, whereas there is in law an organisation devoted to mobilising volunteers, there is no such legal person as a volunteer. For an organisation, although the position is quite complex, the main tax advantages of acquiring charitable status relate to zero liability to pay corporate income tax and the benefits they derive from personal tax incentives in favour of charitable giving. Unlike a private or public sector organisation, however, they suffer from an irrecoverable value-added tax (VAT) burden since they can neither offset the tax via their suppliers as in the private sector nor take advantage of special tax recovery arrangements available to the public sector.

For individuals, when acting as volunteers, they are subject to the same legal provisions applicable to any citizen or non-citizen resident within the territory. These include the right to a duty of care from their employer if they are volunteering (whether on or off site) as part of their employer's scheme to assist the non-profit sector. Moreover, in respect of health and safety regulations, the volunteer organisation has a similar duty of care towards volunteers as to their paid employees. The main difference between employing employees and volunteers is that the former have an employment contract that brings with it protection against unfair dismissal and of minimum wage legislation and other negotiated agreements, together with the full extent of employment law dealing with anti-discrimination regarding gender, ethnicity, disability, age and sexual orientation. Thus no special legal provisions depending on age apply to volunteers, whereas there are (p.124) now protections against age discrimination relating to employed people.

Moreover, employers are now advised to follow certain practices that ensure that volunteers are not inadvertently given employment status in the eyes of the law and to ensure, especially, that the laws of unfair dismissal do not apply. This means (Directory of Social Change, 2011):

  • emphasising a non-contractual relationship in behaviour and language

  • avoiding employee-related policies and terms

  • reimbursing actual expenses only

  • only offering training which is necessary to the volunteer role itself.

Organisations recruiting volunteers are thus encouraged to stress that there are no legal rights or obligations constraining the roles of their volunteers, and that these roles are not therefore protected by UK legislation but lie rather at the centre of a set of hopes and light expectations shared by the individual and the organisation.

The dimension of volunteer work

The UK voluntary sector has expanded during the first decade of the 21st century, both in terms of the number of organisations and its employee workforce (Clark et al, 2011, 2012), but experienced a sharp drop (8.7 per cent) in paid staff between the third quarters of 2010-11 following public sector spending cuts (Weakley, 2012). Participation in formal volunteering increased somewhat between 2000 and 2005 but, by the end of the decade, it had more or less returned to the levels recorded at the start (see Figure 6.1). Despite anecdotal evidence that volunteering enquiries increased following the onset of the recession, this has not, to date, resulted in higher levels of volunteering (Clark et al, 2012).

Voluntary organisations

More than half of the 160,000 registered organisations that the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) includes in its UK voluntary sector overview were small organisations with an annual income below £10,000 (€12,000), and relatively few (2.8 per cent) were large with an annual income of £1 million (€1.2 million) (p.125)

Older Volunteers in England: Towards Greater Flexibility and Inclusiveness?

Figure 6.1: participation in formal volunteering among the population aged 16 and over, england, 2001-2010/11

Source: DCLG (2011a)

or more (Clark et al, 2012). The latter include well-known charities that operate nationally and at a local level through branches or local charity retail outlets.

The voluntary sector is estimated to employ around 765,000 paid staff, representing 2.7 per cent of the UK workforce (Clark et al, 2011). Most of the employees work in social work without accommodation (37 per cent) and residential care activities (15 per cent), followed by, for example, education and activities of membership organisations.

Volunteers by Sector, Gender and Age

Formal volunteering in the Citizenship Survey2 has been defined as ‘giving unpaid help as part of a group, club or organisation to benefit others or the environment’, and is recorded according to level of intensity (DCLG, 2011a, p 27). In the 2010-11 Survey, 39 per cent of the adult population in England participated in formal volunteering at least once within the last 12 months (16.6 million people), and 25 per cent at least once a month (10.6 million volunteers, providing hours of work roughly equivalent to those of 1.1 million full-time employees) –henceforth referred to as ‘regular’ volunteering (DCLG, 2011a). Those who participated via employer-supported volunteering amounted to 5 percentage points of those volunteering at least once a year and 2 percentage points of the regular volunteers.

Volunteering takes place across a wide range of sectors and activities, often with multiple volunteering where the same individual contributes to more than one sector (Low et al, 2007). The highest (p.126) incidence of regular formal volunteering involves (see Table 6.1) sport/exercise, where over half of volunteers are engaged; about a third or more are involved in hobbies, recreation/arts/social clubs; religion; children's education/schools; and youth/children's activities (outside school). A fifth of volunteers mentioned health, disability and social

Table 6.1: types of organisation helped through regular formal volunteering in the 12 months before interview, by age group and gender, england, 2009-10 (%)

16-24

25-34

35-49

50-64

65-74

75+

Male

Female

All

Sport/exercise (taking part, coaching or going to watch)

67

58

65

50

34

32

60

49

54

Hobbies, recreation/arts/ social clubs

45

40

38

47

42

37

46

38

42

Religion

25

34

34

36

41

53

30

40

36

Children's education/schools

36

35

52

27

15

13

26

42

34

Youth/children's activities (outside school)

37

32

43

25

11

6

31

29

30

Health, disability and social welfare

14

15

21

25

19

16

14

24

19

Local community or neighbourhood groups

7

10

18

24

29

29

19

19

19

Supporting older people

10

11

11

25

28

32

15

20

18

The environment, animals

14

9

19

25

21

17

19

18

18

Education for adults

16

21

17

19

16

12

16

18

17

Safety, first aid

19

12

13

12

6

4

11

12

12

Other

13

10

7

10

13

10

10

9

10

Trade union activity

3

8

11

12

4

2

9

8

8

Citizens' groups

3

4

5

10

17

14

7

9

8

Justice and human rights

6

8

5

9

5

4

6

7

7

Politics

6

3

4

5

9

5

7

3

5

Respondentsa

161

266

653

541

344

219

936

1.248

2.184

Notes:

(a) Core sample, only includes those listed in the table headings. Multiple responses, hence percentages sum to more than 100.

Source: DCLG (2011b)

(p.127) welfare; supporting older people; or community/neighbourhood groups.

Turning to the types of activity undertaken (see Table 6.2), regardless of the voluntary field concerned, about half of volunteers cited assisting with the running of activities or events and raising or handling money. These were followed by leading a group or committee membership and offering other practical help. Other activities reported by about a quarter of the volunteers included offering information, advice or counselling; visiting people; befriending and mentoring; and providing transport.

Gender differences in volunteering were very small in 2009-10 with about 40 per cent of both men and women volunteering in the last 12 months and about 25 per cent volunteering regularly; the same was more or less true a decade earlier. However, whereas women's participation was about 1 percentage point above that of men in these years, this gap rose to about 4 or 5 points in the middle of the decade

Table 6.2: types of formal volunteering activities undertaken by regular formal volunteers in the 12 months before interview, by age group, england, 2010-11 (%)

16-24

25-34

35-49

50-64

65-74

75+

All

Organising or helping to run an activity or event

55

45

56

51

52

42

52

Raising or handling money

43

48

58

53

50

45

51

Leading the group/member of committee

33

26

40

41

43

32

37

Other practical help

40

36

41

31

26

25

35

Giving information/advice/counselling

29

31

27

31

25

16

27

Providing transport/driving

14

22

30

30

27

19

26

Visiting people

17

24

17

30

36

32

24

Befriending or mentoring people

28

24

20

23

24

20

23

Secretarial, clerical or admin work

12

11

18

25

25

15

18

Representing

22

14

15

17

14

11

16

Any other activities

12

11

13

16

15

16

14

Campaigning

8

4

8

13

12

6

9

Respondentsa

161

266

653

541

344

219

2,184

Notes:

(a) Core sample, only includes those listed in the table heading. Multiple responses, hence percentages sum to more than 100.

Source: DCLG (2011b)

(p.128) before declining. Women are more likely to be engaged in children's education/schools, religion, and health, disability and social welfare. Men are more likely to volunteer in sport/exercise and hobbies/arts/ social clubs (DCLG, 2011b).

Volunteering, as a percentage of the population age group concerned, whether at least once a year or regularly, is lowest for 25-to 34-year-olds (the family formation phase), peaks at ages 35-49 and then tails off before increasing again at the onset of and during the main postretirement phase of 65-74, declining thereafter for those aged 75+, for reasons relating to health or disability (see Figure 6.2). However, the average number of hours of volunteering is actually at a minimum for the 35 to 49-year-olds. Taking this into account, the extent of regular volunteering is characterised more simply by the low point among those aged 2534 and a peak among 64 to 74-year-olds; for the wider definition of volunteering, the (modest) peak shifts to the 50 to 64-year-olds.

Older Volunteers in England: Towards Greater Flexibility and Inclusiveness?

Figure 6.2: Formal volunteering: percentage who volunteered and average number of hours volunteered during the last four weeks prior to the interview, by age group, England, 2009-10

Source: Figures based on DCLG (2011b)

Participation in volunteering is affected by the level of education of volunteers, with degree holders volunteering more often than those with a GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) or no qualifications (see Figure 6.3). Similarly, those in higher socio-economic groups (higher/lower managerial and professional occupations) participate more often in volunteering than those in less (p.129)

Older Volunteers in England: Towards Greater Flexibility and Inclusiveness?

Figure 6.3: Participation in formal volunteering by highest qualification level, England, 2009/10

Notes: A-level = advanced level after secondary education; GCSE = General Certificate of Secondary Education.

Source: Figures based on DCLG (2011b)

skilled occupations. Volunteering at least once a year is markedly more common among the employed (44 per cent) than the unemployed or economically inactive (35 per cent), but only slightly more when considering regular volunteering (27 versus 23 per cent, respectively). Other groups with higher rates of regular volunteering include those who are White (26 per cent), Black (25 per cent), have a religious affiliation (26 per cent) or live in a rural area (31 per cent) (DCLG, 2011b).

The above differences in patterns of volunteering when hours are taken into account rather defy attempts to identify a prototypical volunteer any more specifically than being someone aged between 35 and 64, who is well educated and, if employed, holds a skilled or highly skilled job.

Participation of older volunteers

Bearing in mind the difficulties of comparing surveys over time, regular volunteering among the older age groups (50-64 and 65-74) appears to have fallen more gradually between the years 2005 (p.130) and 2009 than that among the younger age groups (DCLG, different years).

A prototypical older regular volunteer may be described as someone in the early/middle stage of retirement (64-74). He or she could be described as someone raising or handling money, helping to run an event or engaging in committee work/leading a group in an organisation running recreational activities, a sports organisation (volunteering rate declining with age) or a religious organisation (volunteering rate increasing with age). However, compared to other age groups, older volunteers are more likely to be committee members/lead a group, visit people (likely to include or even focus on older people), engage with religious organisations, provide support to other older people or local community groups –and are less likely to engage in organisations concerned with sports, children/youth activities outside school or young people or to provide practical help (see Tables 6.1 and 6.2).

In general, men are more likely to provide transport and advice, and women are more likely to provide ‘other practical support’ and, while there is no survey information on the form of voluntary help given, by age group and gender, there is some anecdotal information that this may also apply to older volunteers.

There appears to be little information on volunteer age structures at an organisational level, an exception being the study undertaken by Rochester and Thomas (2006). Their non-representative survey of 400 largely voluntary sector organisations found that the percentage of volunteers aged 50+ was highest in areas relating to social services (75 per cent) and health (73 per cent), and lowest in culture and recreation (43 per cent). These results largely mirror the findings of the Citizenship Survey. Older volunteers were reported to have taken up a wide range of roles, with the most frequent ones reported to include ‘reception, administration and clerical’ (30 per cent), ‘befriending and mentoring’ (25 per cent) and ‘provision of specialist expertise’ (25 per cent).

While organisations providing services for older people (for example, WRVS or Age UK) tend to attract predominantly older volunteers, there appear to be few examples of organisations targeting mature volunteers, as such. Virtually unique in the UK is the Retired Senior Volunteer Programme (RSVP). Set up in 1988 as a free-standing programme within Community Service Volunteers (CSV), it offers volunteering opportunities to the over-50s. RSVP continues to expand, and currently has more than 16,000 volunteers in the UK (CSV, 2011), working on volunteer-led and volunteer-managed (p.131) projects in a range of areas, including education, environment, health and social care, heritage and, for example, knitting items to support good causes.

Older people's participation in voluntary organisations: opportunities and restrictions

Promotion of active ageing through extending working lives and engagement in volunteering is a key policy response to an ageing society in which people are living healthier lives for longer. Moreover, research shows that older people, like other age groups participating in volunteering, derive benefits from it, such as intrinsic satisfaction, enjoyment and social contacts (DCLG, 2010; see also Age UK, 2011). While there is, in principle, an opportunity to engage growing numbers of older people in volunteering, there may also be barriers to volunteering that relate to (1) individual perceptions and preferences;

(2) civil society organisations' approaches to deploying volunteers; and (3) public policy. This section explores the available evidence and briefly looks at how older volunteering interacts with labour market participation and caring responsibilities.

Opportunities and restrictions for volunteering for older people

Studies exploring the motivation to volunteer usually find that volunteers give more than one reason (see, for example, Davis Smith and Gay, 2005). Rochester and Hutchinson (2002, p 47) report that volunteering enables older people ‘to meet personal needs and interests and provides them with opportunities for personal development.’ More specifically, motivations include being valued, ‘putting something back’ into the community, filling a void following retirement or bereavement or for some, helping other older people.

At the same time, older people's own perceptions can act as a barrier, as they may be unaware of the range of volunteering opportunities, have stereotypical views about who volunteers, or lack confidence in their abilities because they may not recognise the experience and skills they are able to offer (Rochester and Hutchinson, 2002).

Moreover, survey evidence on the barriers to regular formal volunteering shows that 50-to 64-year-olds mostly cite other commitments, notably work and looking after children/the home, and other interests. The 65-to 75-year-olds reported barriers less frequently and referred to a wider range of reasons (including health issues and work commitments); those aged 75+ indicated that (p.132) illness or disability and feeling too old were the most prevalent barriers (DCLG, 2011b).

With regard to opportunities at an organisational level, Rochester and Hutchinson (2002) tentatively concluded that organisations promoting the well-being of older people tended to be more successful in attracting older volunteers (mirrored in Table 6.1) as were those organisations where volunteering was a ‘recognised and central feature’ (p 44), since these organisations were more predisposed towards understanding, mobilising and supporting them. The study also identified areas where older volunteers in particular could make a valuable contribution, such as offering frail and isolated older people education and recreational activities, helping people with long-term health problems to manage their condition and intergenerational activities (Rochester and Hutchinson, 2002). Besides that, there is a wider range of organisational volunteering opportunities older people enjoy, for example, in culture and recreation, where people can take on public-facing or back office roles in museums in which they take a keen interest (see Lindley et al, 2011).

Organisations acknowledge that older volunteers have a lot to offer, such as maturity, skills, loyalty, greater availability of time and ability to engage with (older and younger) service users. However, certain policies and practices have been identified as presenting barriers to effective older volunteering (Dingle, 2001; Rochester and Hutchinson, 2002). These include the overtly ageist policy of imposing an upper age limit for volunteers (partly blamed on difficulties in insuring older volunteers and partly used as a blanket approach to retire older volunteers). More recently, Rochester and Thomas (2006, p 3) have concluded that there is ‘some evidence of [age] limits being removed or eased.’ More nuanced are a bias towards younger volunteers and allocations of tasks to older volunteers that tend to be somewhat limited and less interesting than those that older volunteers actually want (Rochester and Hutchison, 2002).

Turning to the institutional level, a number of initiatives to support volunteering were put in place during the New Labour governments (1997-2010), notably (a) activities that created a positive environment for volunteering, including targets for volunteering in public service agreements with central and local governments; (b) various volunteering initiatives, targeting all or particular groups, such as young people, the unemployed or older people; and (c) activities that supported the volunteering infrastructure and improved the capacity of the voluntary sector (Zimmeck, 2010).

(p.133) Between 1999 and 2006, three government-led initiatives focused specifically on older volunteers:

  • The Home Office Older Volunteer Initiative (1999-2003) aimed to raise the number and quality of opportunities for people aged

  • 50+ to volunteer and to engage with their community. The£1.5 million (€1.8 million) initiative funded 26 projects, nearly allled by voluntary organisations, and attracted volunteers aged 50-80. The final evaluation report acknowledged the many achievements of the programme but noted that its design and implementation had limitations that affected the achievement of its overall aims;one of these was sustaining activities beyond the funding period (Rochester and Hutchinson, 2002).

  • An initiative aimed at recruiting exclusively older volunteers has had limited success. Funded by a grant from the Home Office, a new non-profit company, named Experience Corps, was set up in 2002 in order to help recruit 250,000 volunteers aged 50-65 by 2004, but funding was withdrawn in 2003 because the actual recruitment (130,000 at the time) was below target (Shifrin, 2003).

  • The two-year programme, Volunteering in the Third Age (VITA, 2004-06), was designed to support volunteering by people aged 65+, aiming at improving the volunteering experience, tackling barriers to volunteering, promoting the value and impact of volunteering and attracting more older volunteers (Price, 2007).

As part of its overall support for volunteering, the Coalition government (which was formed in May 2010) funded a small project on the volunteering of older people in health and social care as part of the activities that marked the 2011 EU Year of Volunteering, culminating in two Age UK-led events on older volunteering and reports (Age UK, 2011, 2012).

From a somewhat different perspective, promoting volunteering in later life has, to different degrees, also been part of government initiatives to promote the well-being of older citizens. These include, especially, programmes such as LinkAge Plus (2006-08), Partnerships for Older People Projects (2005-09), the Ageing Well Programme (2010-12) and the Active at 60 Community Agent Programme (2011). The last of these, for example, tested a new role for older people willing to take the lead in developing the activities of an existing community group and encouraging more older people to participate. An assessment by Hatamian et al (2012) suggests that the role was valuable, sustainable beyond the end of the programme (through the (p.134) majority of community agents wanting to continue), and helped to increase volunteering opportunities for other older people in support of the group's activities.

Overall, these two overlapping aims of promoting older volunteering and older people's well-being come together as just part of the Coalition government's strategy to create what it has called the ‘Big Society’ by (a) giving local authorities and other local players more power to make decisions; (b) engaging the voluntary, community and private sectors more in the delivery of public services; and (c) encouraging people to take on a more active role in society (Office for Civil Society, 2010). A key initiative currently under way is to train 5,000 community organisers by 2015, the large majority being unpaid volunteers. However, the launch of the ‘Big Society’ coincided with a period of significant public spending cuts. While new funding streams were set up to support this ambition, funding cuts elsewhere are likely to hamper the realisation of the wider goals (Slocock, 2012). A contrast can be seen in the idea of greater autonomy alongside reduced resources offered by the Coalition as opposed to strong central government control with greater resource growth offered under Labour.

Older people between employment and volunteering

In 2011, the UK's employment rate was above the EU27 average, both for the 50-to 64-year-olds (65.0 versus 57.6 per cent) and the 65+ (8.9 versus 4.8 per cent). The UK employment rates for women aged 50-64 and for those aged 65+ stood at 59.2 and 6.3 per cent, respectively, with comparable figures for men being 71.1 and 11.9 per cent, respectively (Eurostat, April-June 2011). Given the gradual rise of the UK state pension age for women from 60 to 65 planned for 2010-18, to equalise that for men, women's employment rates are likely to grow further.

As to future intention, 66 per cent of the age group 50-64 in Great Britain agree that they would like to continue working after they reach the age when they are entitled to a pension (Eurobarometer, 2012). Another source records that 53 per cent of this age group agree/strongly agree that they would enjoy having a paid job even if they did not need the money (ISSP, 2005), suggesting that non-financial motives play a role in the preference for a possible extension of working lives. However, both survey samples concerned are very small once broken down to country and age group.

(p.135) Some volunteer before retirement (intermittently or fairly continuously) and some begin to volunteer in retirement (Davis Smith and Gay, 2005; Baines et al, 2006), often because work commitments precluded participation in volunteering during their working lives (Baines et al, 2006).

Some quantitative evidence is beginning to emerge, however, that those who participated in volunteering before retirement are more likely to engage in volunteering after retirement than those who had no prior volunteering experience (Erlinghagen, 2010; Jivraj and Nazroo, 2012).

This reinforces the importance of promoting volunteering throughout the life cycle. Some authors (see, for example, Davis Smith and Gay, 2005; Hatton-Yeo, 2006; Commission for the Future of Volunteering, 2008) have argued that more could be done to increase volunteering before retirement; this would mean going beyond delivering pre-retirement courses to consider schemes to foster more employer-supported volunteering as part of phased retirement.

Employer-supported volunteering has been adopted mainly by private corporations companies and public sector organisations as part of their corporate social responsibility activities (Rochester et al, 2010). Volunteering opportunities may be offered by the company itself or as a result of the employer's collaboration with a charity or an intermediary, and schemes vary as to whether volunteering takes place in the employee's own time or within working hours (Low et al, 2007). However, while some see employer-supported volunteering as a growth area (as reported in Rochester et al, 2010), survey data have yet to show an increase in participation in this form of volunteering.

Without adequate data on volunteering over time, it is not possible to do the necessary econometric modelling so as to ascertain the likelihood of a negative or positive impact of an extension of working lives on the propensity to volunteer (in terms of the time given or the participation rate). Nevertheless, the overall number of older volunteers is likely to rise through the scale of increases in the size of older populations cohorts. Yet the increasing role of part-time work during later life may allow more flexibility, unless other roles or aims gain more prominence, and retirement in itself may not be the decisive factor for taking up volunteering in later life.

(p.136) Older people between family care and volunteering

Care services for older people in England are delivered by a range of public, private and voluntary providers following assessment by local authorities, yet most care is provided by unpaid informal carers.

Should the need for care arise, public opinion is divided as to how this should be arranged, with most either expecting the children to get involved with the care of an older parent living on his or her own, either by inviting the parent to live with one of the children (20 per cent) or one of them regularly visiting their parent (23 per cent) or expecting care providers to provide the appropriate care at home (34 per cent) (Eurobarometer, 2007, UK figures).

In 2010/11 more than 1 million people aged 65 and over received (one or more) services from local authorities, mainly communitybased services, including home care (over 400,000 people) and direct payments (over 300,000 people) intended to enable them to purchase the types of service that best met their needs. In addition 167,000 received residential care and 79,000 nursing care (NHS Information Centre, 2012). However, the number of service users has declined over time, as local authorities have tightened eligibility criteria (CSCI, 2008).

In England, caring for an ill, disabled or older person peaks at the age of 45-64, and nearly half of the overall 12 per cent of people aged 16 or over providing care for this group dedicate about 20 or more hours per week to unpaid caring (NHS Information Centre, 2010). Older women, in particular the 50-to 59-year-olds, are more often caring for someone than men, and a substantial proportion of women care for more than one person (an older relative, a child/grandchild, spouse/partner or someone else) (Vlachantoni, 2010).

Given the time demands of caring and related logistical issues, this is likely to affect the capacity to volunteer. This is borne out by survey data which identify those who see ‘looking after someone elderly or ill’ as a barrier to regular formal volunteering: this applies to between 13 and 16 per cent of the over-50s age groups compared to 8 per cent overall (DCLG, 2010).

While there is also some evidence from voluntary organisations that people reduce their volunteering hours or drop out while they are caring for someone older or looking after a grandchild, it has also been reported that some may return to volunteer with the same organisation at a later stage, particularly if their volunteering experience has been positive. Moreover, a large organisation providing support for older people observed that ‘quite a few’ people whose parent had received (p.137) services from the organisation volunteered with them after the parent had passed away as they wanted ‘to give something back’ (Lindley et al, 2011).

Improving the match between supply of older candidates with the demands of voluntary organisations: future perspectives

There is widespread recognition that the demand for certain kinds of voluntary activity, notably in health and social care, will rise significantly as a result of population ageing. A recent study has explored roles for volunteers in health and social care, with a particular view to promoting active ageing. These roles are concerned with, for example, exercise and activity, traditional one-to-one assistance and practical help, or provision of transport (Age UK, 2012). They offer opportunities in areas where older people have a strong interest, such as in supporting the elderly or ‘giving something back to the community’.

From an organisational point of view, important key potential barriers arise throughout the volunteer cycle. If these were to be addressed, recruitment and retention of (older) volunteers could be improved. Voluntary organisations may argue that an increase in volunteering opportunities needs to be accompanied by additional resources to support volunteers throughout the volunteer cycle, which, in the current climate of budget cuts, would be difficult to achieve.

Moreover, some commentators/researchers point to changing attitudes towards volunteering in later life due to a significant generational change. Looking specifically at older volunteers, Evans and Saxton (2005) argue that those born in the aftermath of the Second World War, the so-called ‘baby-boomers’, have lived through different economic and political times, resulting in changes in attitudes and motivations compared to previous generations, with some commentators stressing that they are more demanding, more non-conformist or ‘wish to pursue their dreams in later life’. These motivations and expectations, maintains the report, will need to be addressed by the voluntary sector when targeting this group. Mirroring this, organisations with a large number of older volunteers may argue that the key to attracting additional volunteers can be getting the package of volunteering opportunities right and preparing the organisation to ‘ride that wave’ (Lindley et al, 2011).

Overall, a central plank would be to aim for a more flexible and inclusive environment that aligns with the skills and interests of (p.138) the volunteer while offering meaningful tasks that enable effective deployment from an organisational point of view. Taking stock of the research findings reported in this chapter suggests that voluntary organisations may consider the following strategies in their efforts to increase the supply of older volunteers in line with their demands for them:

  • Formulate organisational demands in terms that help to foster an underlying long-term commitment among a population of potential future volunteers, while making it as convenient as possible for them to volunteer in packages of time that suit the pattern of their lives, and enable them to make positive contributions.

  • Work to convey an accurate image of what volunteering is like nowadays, stressing the benefits that volunteering brings to people and the benefits people themselves can get from volunteering (Commission for the Future of Volunteering, 2008; Age UK, 2011).

  • Reach out to older people and offer them a wider range of volunteering opportunities while, at the same time, deploying the skills and interests of older volunteers to the advantage of the organisation (Rochester and Hutchison, 2002).

  • Anticipate the welfare implications of an ageing society, and encourage ‘younger-older’ people to help to create services for ‘older-older’ people that they themselves may want to take advantage of later in their own lives.

  • Promote volunteering across the life cycle as there is some evidence that people are more likely to re-engage in volunteering than to participate for the first time in retirement.

  • Support older volunteers in adapting their roles in line with their changing interests and capabilities and offer training that supports a career in volunteering (see, for example, Davis Smith and Gay, 2005; Commission for the Future of Volunteering, 2008).

  • Introduce more human resources-style professional management practice with respect to volunteers while retaining a balance between the formal and informal so as to preserve key elements of the culture of the organisation.

  • More generally, monitor volunteers' age structure and seek out intergenerational activities that help to strengthen social cohesion at the same time as benefiting the organisation in the short and long term (on the side of the older person, for example, foster opportunities to bring to bear their capabilities and life experience, learn new skills from younger people, and keep in touch with the younger generation).

(p.139) While there have been some government-led older volunteer initiatives during the last decade or so, less attention is apparently being paid currently to older volunteering, partly because there is more emphasis on integrating young people into the labour market through the stepping-stone of youth volunteering opportunities. Baines and Hardill (2008) argue that putting too much emphasis on promoting volunteering as a way of enhancing employability may discourage older people not in paid work from volunteering, hence their more intrinsic motives need to continue to resonate in recruitment strategies.

Focusing on how public policy could support voluntary sector organisations in better matching volunteer supply and demand, the following areas of intervention can be identified:

  • (older) volunteers who are unemployed should be clearer that this does not jeopardise their right to benefits (currently being addressed; see Office for Civil Society, 2012);

  • tax relief systems should be better designed to increase the volume and stability of charitable giving so as to produce income streams that are independent of income derived from supplying services;

  • there should be a much clearer public policy strategy to underpin the terms under which service contracts are offered by the public sector to the third sector;

  • the training and development activities of the third sector should be the subject of more substantial state financial support;

  • there should be greater recognition, supported by further research, of the benefits of volunteering to the health and well-being of older volunteers and service users, and this should be properly taken into account in assessing public financial and in-kind resources given to the voluntary sector;

  • institutional capabilities for collaboration among voluntary

  • organisations at local, regional and national level need reinforcing –public funding to support this should be further considered.

Conclusions

Currently in the UK, around 40 per cent of the age groups 50-64 and 65-74 volunteer at least once a year, with participation levels dropping after the age of 74. Demographic changes mean that there is an increasing pool of people aged 50+, many approaching retirement, who could be attracted into volunteering for the benefit of the individuals whose activities they support, society at large and (p.140) themselves. The current generation of older people differs in some respects from previous generations as they are, on average, expected to lead healthier lives for longer, work for longer, and may have different aspirations for their retirement as better health and increased income and wealth extend their range of choice. However, ‘older people’ are a very diverse group with many facing much less benign situations that voluntary organisations need to recognise in dealing with them as potential volunteers as much as potential clients for the services or associational activities they provide.

In particular, voluntary organisations are faced with some evidence that older people are changing their preferences. The currently retiring generation, including the first generation of women having participated in the labour market for a major part of their adult life, may be more demanding –less willing to commit to regular volunteering and more inclined to seek specific opportunities that meet their own goals. They are also extending or planning to extend their working lives either out of necessity or choice or a mixture of both. Thus, short-term strategies that simply rely on the presumed leeway offered by rising cohorts of retirees may come unstuck. Moreover, evaluation findings have shown that more can be done to attract older volunteers by reaching out to people and offering a wider spectrum of volunteering opportunities, taking into account their skills, interests and changing capacities as well as the organisation's needs.

Concern over the supply of volunteers is often expressed, at least implicitly, in terms of the viability of multiple activities – at its most testing, can people work, care for family members and volunteer at the same time? If extending working life also coincides with greater family care responsibilities, where does that leave volunteering? A conclusion of this chapter is that this is too simplistic a formulation of the volunteer–supply nexus. This is because it fails to recognise the multiple time horizons over which practical dilemmas face individuals and families and the choices they make.

For example, there is evidence suggesting that experience of volunteering over the early-to-mid stage of the life cycle has an important bearing on volunteering in later life; retirement as such may not be the crucial factor, although it does (eventually) often trigger volunteering for a range of reasons. Moreover, caring can lead to volunteering in the longer run, even if it obstructs commitment in the short run.

Nevertheless, more flexible opportunities for working in later life and more flexible volunteering opportunities may offer positive mutual reinforcement on older volunteer supply if allowance is (p.141) made for their aggregate overall effects over the future rather than concentrating on the fates of individual strategies to cope with multiple activities largely in the present. In the latter context, however, the role of employer-supported volunteering programmes, which are still on a modest overall scale, could become increasingly important in helping employees to reconcile in particular part-time working and volunteering for those approaching retirement.

While pursuing more ‘flexibility’ in both the workplace and in volunteering should increase the supply of volunteers, it may do so within those groups that already have relatively high participation rates. Paying more attention to the extent to which less well represented groups might be supported can largely be seen as a ‘volunteer supply strategy’ but, in fact, also introduces another possible part of the voluntary organisation's mission –promoting equality and diversity in the process of volunteering, not just in the access to services that volunteers help to supply.

The notion of ‘diversity’ has gradually been replacing ‘equality’ in the lexicon of British human resources policy and practice as it shifts from ‘asserting rights and meeting them’ to ‘celebrating diversity’, although the ‘business case rationale’ still stalks the equality debate. In the context of volunteering, a better term would probably be inclusiveness as it sets a context in which the interests of service users are considered together with the opportunities made available to potential older volunteers. This falls short of asserting the right to make a voluntary contribution alongside the right to work. But it moves the volunteer supply debate onto more positive ground in which social well-being is understood to be generated not only by accessing services but also volunteering to support them. Aiming for more inclusiveness as well as flexibility in approaching the volunteering environment may seem to set yet another challenge for voluntary organisations to surmount. However, together they offer the prospect of a richer conceptual framework within which to consider the future of older volunteering than one tied primarily to demographic opportunism and the retirement bubble.

Finally, it must be recognised that governmentled initiatives on volunteering in later life, run by New Labour between 1999 and 2006, had some success but only a limited impact beyond the duration of the programme. The incoming Coalition government's new Big Society programme represented a challenging set of attitudes towards and expectations of the whole voluntary and community sector. Creating the ‘Big Society’ implies harnessing the capacity of the voluntary sector so as to ‘produce’ more well-being. But the launch of (p.142) this policy in 2010 alongside an austerity-driven economic strategy failed to recognise the importance of the public funding that underlies many of the sector's activities. It also failed to acknowledge that the treatment of both welfare benefits for older age groups and state/ occupational pensions are key parts of the environment in which relationships between older volunteers, organisations and the state develop. Given the likely economic climate, the future of the ‘non-market force of older volunteering’ will probably be determined more by innovations explored by voluntary organisations than anything that UK governments are willing to do well into the medium term.

Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to Giovanni Lamura and Andrea Principi for their leadership of the ASPA (Activating Senior Potential in Ageing Europe) research dealing with voluntary organisations and in particular, to Andrea Principi, for his very helpful comments on earlier drafts of this chapter.

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Notes:

(1) As yet there are no officially produced GDP (gross domestic product) figures for the registered voluntary organisations of the third sector, hence the use of GVA estimates. Moreover, there are about 110,000 unregistered charities that lie entirely outside the boundary of official financial statistics. See Westhall (2009) for perspectives on the measurement and measurability of the third sector.

(2) See Staetsky and Mohan (2011) for a review of statistical sources on UK volunteering. Long-term volunteering participation rates have been relatively stable regardless of the source and whether or not restricted or inclusive definitions of volunteering are used.