Volunteering Matters is a proud supporter of the #IWill campaign.  Alongside over 700 organisations –  everyone from charities and businesses through to councils – we are committed to ensuring that as many 10 – 20 year olds as possible benefit from participating in meaningful youth social action, which includes volunteering.  The campaign is ambitious.  The aim is to raise participation levels by 50 per cent by 2020.

Are we on track? Frustratingly, we’re not. The annual National Youth Social Action Survey just published as part of the #IWill campaign shows that the overall level of participation in “meaningful youth social action” (essentially, activity which is more than a one-off, and which the young person themselves recognises as having benefited from) is flatlining.  Worse still, for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds the proportion dropped from 40 per cent in 2016 to 32 per cent in 2017.

The figures come at a time when hard questions are being asked about whether, as a society, we have lost our focus on children and young people.  The Local Government Association’s Bright Futures campaign is warning of a £2 billion funding gap in services for children unless there is new investment.  Whether we look at levels of youth violence, child poverty or child and adolescent mental health, there are worrying signs that young lives are becoming more stressful, less secure, unhappier.

Stalled progress on youth social action needs to be understood as part of this wider picture.  But for those of us who signed the #IWill pledge, we need to insist that encouraging and supporting social action is a key part of the way to put things right.  We don’t have the luxury of waiting for a more benign environment.  As individual organisations we have to look at how we work, and the priorities we set, so that young people, especially those already disadvantaged, get the opportunities they deserve to thrive.

At Volunteering Matters that has involved taking big decisions about some of our most well established programmes, and holding ourselves to account with more rigour than ever before.  Full-Time Volunteering has long been one of our flagship programmes.  Six months to a year away from home, helping others while discovering your own strengths, has been a life changing experience for generations of young people.  But we had to ask ourselves whether the programme was really accessible to those who could benefit most.  In talking to young people, we realised that what while what we were offering seemed obviously possible and exciting to many young people from more well-off backgrounds with solid educational achievements, the prospect of committing for such a long amount of time, and moving away from home could be daunting to less well off young people with fewer qualifications.  So we committed to redesigning the programme, with a greater range of placement options.  And at the same time we launched an online campaign –  #RevolutionYou – to show how inclusive and transformational full time volunteering can be.

Our corporate strategy, refreshed in October last year, spells out our commitment to ways of working that embody good practice in social action.  As an organisation, we see our volunteers as our partners, who work with us and with our beneficiaries to co-produce great programmes.  In our work with young people, that often means support for peer-learning.  For example, our WASSUP programme in Suffolk worked with young women from more newly arrived communities to create a programme that challenged domestic violence and sexual abuse.  In Wales, our SAFE project supports young women with a learning need or disability to identify appropriate and safe relationships.

Across all of our programmes, including those for young people, we are introducing a new impact framework that will enable us to know the social and economic background of our volunteers.  With this data, we will be able to track over time whether we are on course to meet our commitment to involve a proportionately greater number of people from disadvantaged communities.

Like other #IWill partners we are determined to use the latest figures as a spur to action. We hope that others with influence and responsibility in government, in business and across civil society take them equally seriously.

Paul Buddery, Director of Strategy