Radio 4’s Volunteer Nation programme has the Bank of England’s Chief Economist, Andy Haldane, discovering the contribution that the nation’s volunteers make to its economy. “This is a fantastic success story, which is largely missed. And it could be even more of a success story if people knew about it,” says Haldane, the country’s most senior economist.
Well, the not-for-profit sector knows about it. We have been promoting the benefits (including to the volunteers themselves) of volunteering for decades. We have also been attempting to measure the impact and contribution to the economy for almost as long. So, it is not new to us. Even Mr Haldane himself said back in October that the contribution of volunteers could be worth in excess of £50 billion.
Neither is it new to government – local or national. It looks from some angles as though government, under the banner of the Big Society, intends to replace paid workers with volunteers now to run a range of services from libraries and museums to employment support (sometimes called “mentors”), support for the elderly and other vulnerable service users.
Indeed, it looks as though it may only be the private sector, where economists such as Mr Haldane work, that is unaware of the volunteer army of the UK.
Will this turn out to be a good thing? If this means that volunteers’ role is fully recognised and applauded, yes; if it is seen as another justification for cutting paid staff, no.