Saturday, 14 January 2012

Volunteering IS Work

This post has been bubbling through my psychy for at least a year but never really come together.  However this week a related story has been all over the news, sparking debate left right and centre and suddenly the post has found its time.

Cait Reilly is a graduate geologist who had not been able to find work in her chosen field since completing her studies.  However she has not been idle or wasting her time; she's been volunteering at a museum and hence getting invaluable experience for her chosen career.  

Her story has become hot news because she was forced to take a work placement at pound land in order to guarantee getting her job seekers allowance.  I'm sure she'd agree that there's nothing wrong with that per se, that job seekers should work is offered the opportunity (although the press coverage would tell you otherwise); BUT in her circumstance the forced placement meant she lost her volunteering role.  

So here's the situation
- highly educated young woman
- desire to work in a specific field
- takes a voluntary role to gain experience; it's an internship
- is not lucky enough to have money behind her so claims benefits
- is told that volunteering is not a "real job" and has to show she's committed to work

How is her situation any different than those sons and daughters who are supported by their parents and become interns in careers of their choice?  How is her situation any different from mine?  I also choose to volunteer instead of working for money.  The only difference is that we live off savings and Mike's income and don't claim benefits.

I know there's a huge debate in the middle of this and that she could get a job in the evenings (supermarkets, pubs etc) which allowed her to volunteer and support herself economically; but I also believe that society does not value volunteering! 

As a volunteer (I work over 30 hours a week for no economic return) I do valuable work in my community, provide services that would otherwise not be available and set a great example to Rachel about the role of "work".

However I can not get a new credit card, can not open a new bank account and have to watch my state pension become worthless since I cannot make NI contributions.  These are just 3 issues I have come across but I'm sure there are many others.  I am basically seen as worthless because I don't earn an income.  I'm designated as "unemployed" because I don't earn money.  I'm devalued by society.

There is something very wrong with this situation.  I make a large contribution to the local and UK economy.  My work, and that of my fellow volunteers, saves time and resources in education, social care and health services.  We are big society in action.  But our value is not recognised or quantified.

I am passionate about volunteering; I think the country would be a much better place if everyone did some voluntary work each month. I take it as seriously as any job I've ever done; it's a job but not for money.  

Our society needs to start realising that for many of us it's not all about the money, it's about love and support and caring for each other.

1 comment:

sheila said...

I completely agree with everything you've said here, Emma. The young girl doing voluntary work in her local museum was in exactly the right place, not only to get relevant work experience, but also to indicate that she was serious about her chosen career and to make contacts and get herself known to potential future employers. Several people I know have been offered jobs as a result of being volunteers in their chosen field, and the more specialised the area of work, the more likely this is. Internal appointments are made and jobs may not even be advertised. Regarding the other aspect of volunteering that you wrote about, like you, I have been involved in voluntary work for many years (since soon after my son was born 22 years ago!) but feel I am regarded as a 'non-person' because I have not been economically productive. The help and support I have provided to a large number of people in that time seems to count for nothing. Unlike you, however, I'm afraid I have been embarrassed to admit that I work without getting paid, and when asked 'Are you working?' I've said 'No.' I obviously need to rethink that!