In a post-EMA climate, young people, are now arguably poorer than they have ever been. So out of those 69 per cent of young people wanting to volunteer, is it possible that only 7 per cent of the 69 per cent can actually make it work financially?


Labour conference’s first day is already jam-packed with events, experiences and workshops. The Youth Zone is no exception, kicking off with a variety of events run and supported by youth services and charities from across the sector. One of its first sessions was a Crowdburst discussion on loneliness and wellbeing.

After an amazing panel discussion run exclusively by young people, the audience broke out into two groups. The facilitator from Groundwork Youth, began by stating that the barriers to volunteering need to be addressed as loneliness can be combatted by supporting young people to get into volunteering. She continued by stating that 69 per cent of young people are keen and interested in volunteering, yet only 7 per cent actually do it.

Representatives from NCS and GirlGuiding began by saying that their should be more signposting in schools, as many young people don’t know these opportunities exist. While another participant, this time from UK Youth, said that highly qualified councillors are needed to show working-class young people why volunteering is worth it.

With only 7 per cent of young people actually volunteering, it is clear to see why the obvious issue could be seen as a lack of exposure to these opportunities. However, is that the only issue?

In a country where youth services and support have been stripped to the bare bone, how do the economics compare? If 69 per cent of young people are keen to volunteer and with so much promotion from the NCS, schools and universities, not to mention access to the internet, surely those 69 per cent of young people would be able to find those volunteering opportunities? So why does such a high number of young people not volunteer?

It is no surprise that the curriculum in UK schools is written based on the collective experiences and knowledge of the middle/upper class. However, one can go further and say that our entire culture around employability and experiences was based on a middle/upper-class families’ resources.

Young people are expected, at a certain age, to volunteer in their local community, then do work experience and finally go to university and gain employment. The first two come with the assumption that young people have a home and parents that are able to support the young person financially, allowing them to do the unpaid work.

In a post-EMA climate, young people, are now arguably poorer than they have ever been. So out of those 69 per of young people wanting to volunteer, is it possible that only 7 per cent of those 69 per cent can actually make it work financially?

Schools have always been gatekeepers to providing young people with additional opportunities, regardless of what their parents earn — from museum visits to volunteering. Linking this in with the NCS’s £180.5m budget from central government, one could say volunteering should have been given a boost.

Yet the figures are still low, suggesting the problem might be deeper than simply young people ‘not knowing these opportunities exist’. If we consider that most young people will be in some form of education, be it secondary, college or university, as well as holding down a part-time job, could it be argued that those young people needing to work a certain amount of hours per week to make ends meet or contribute to the household income, will not have the time or energy to also volunteer?

Even if there are hours in the week to also ram in volunteering after school and a part-time job (I am talking about a proper regular part-time job, not those one-day a week jobs that some do to ‘build character’, but those you do because you NEED the money), would young people living on the bread line do it? Being born into a class gives you a certain mindset. Similar to white privilege, class privilege gives you the ability to not only have the time and money to do volunteering, but the mindset to think into the future because you don’t have to worry about the now — like what you will eat that evening, it’s provided for you.

Yet if you are living on the bread line, or below it, your thought process is more immediate. It’s about urgency and necessity, forget what will benefit my CV in one to five years’ time. What will benefit me now? That benefit being money to help pay bills or buy you food, a train/bus ticket or both. This mindset isn’t something you can easily ‘educate people out of’, it’s a state of being due to circumstance. Hence, the call for more, high qualified, youth workers might be the best way of dealing with this divide.

Maybe it is simply just a lack of knowing how to volunteer, maybe we just need to tell young people how to do it and where to find these opportunities … or maybe, we need to consider the idea that many people are so poor in this country that they simply can’t afford to volunteer. Their mentality is about survival.