We also know that the great bulk of volunteering and giving is concentrated in a small subset of the population. Recent research by the Third Sector Research Centre showed two-thirds of unpaid help is given by around 7% of the population. And not surprisingly most of this is the well educated middle class. And of course these people live in wealthier areas, not deprived ones.
So that's a challenge for the Government's aim to massively increase volunteering . If volunteering levels have been stable against the last decade of extra spending on volunteering how will cuts increase volunteering? And if volunteering needs to be stimulated how will that happen in areas it is needed most, not those where it is now concentrated ?
This then is the challenge that faces Government initiatives and bodies like The Big Society Network. They have determined on a strategy that goes direct to individuals rather than using the established networks of volunteering organisations (CSV, BTCV, V etc). They also want to work direct in communities, again not using established community networks like the Development Trusts or Community Hubs that are being developed through the Communitybuilders programme.
Perhaps the existing structures appear too conventional and established? They have certainly not been used to develop strategy or plan action. But not using the established experience of decades of work both In communities and in volunteering is likely to prove fatal to ambition.
It is interesting how MPs often see the country through the prism of their own constituencies. People like Frank Field go on about Birkenhead. So David Cameron's own patch in West Oxfordshire has a very high level of civic engagement. Charlbury has a plethora of clubs and societies, charity events and functions. No Saturday is complete without our coffee morning or raffle. I suspect the level of volunteering in Charlbury and Chipping Norton is extraordinarily high. But that is also one of the most affluent parts of the country. Compare my other patch in Brixton and the same cannot be said. And if the ambitions of Big Society to grow volunteering and civic engagement are to work then it is places like Brixton that must see an explosion of involvement. It would be good to see this; and the Council's Co-operative experiment will be instructive.
It is time that the expertise of the sector was put to use to achieve it. An instructive tale told to me when I was in the States in March should be a warning. Bush enters The White House first term with grand plans to ramp up civic engagement and get more Americans volunteering. He brought with him mates and contacts from his circle in Texas or on the campaign trail. They ignored existing non-profit organisations because they had the brash arrogance of newcomers who think they can do it all themselves. Well, after nine months nothing was happening and Bush had to call in the experts from the existing structures to rescue his plans. So we shall see.
But now to Devon. I have been having a marvellous relaxing time in Hope Cove. Let me bring you highlights!
Julian doing a Bond impersonation (he thinks) after coming 3rd in the Raft Race!
Hound on the cliffs