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Mr. Maude: Exactly—but I digress.

There have been three major reports, in quick succession, on volunteering: Baroness Neuberger’s wide-ranging and excellent Commission on the Future of Volunteering; the Morgan inquiry, which looked at the barriers that discourage young people from volunteering; and, yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition launched our radical and groundbreaking policy paper on voluntary action in the 21st century. The latter is very much the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), who has immersed himself in the subject for some years and is widely regarded in the sector as a serious authority on it.

Every week, millions of people across Britain volunteer their time for others, providing indispensable personal care across the country. Less than half of those voluntary groups receive any income from Government, and most of them simply would not exist without the work of volunteers. A survey of 59 hospices has concluded that the value of volunteering to the hospice movement as a whole is £112 million, which is almost equal to the financial contribution of the NHS. It estimated that for every £1 spent on supporting volunteers, hospices receive a return worth more than £11, so there is a huge return on modest investment. Indeed, few investments can produce such a rich yield.

Whole areas of community life would simply cease to exist without volunteering. Local sport is an obvious case in point, as 93 per cent. of sports clubs use volunteers. According to Sport England, volunteer coaches, officials, minibus drivers, match secretaries, umpires, treasurers, stewards and countless other helpers sustain more than 100,000 affiliated clubs with more than 8 million members. The annual contribution to sport is about 1 billion hours a year. The London Olympics, in 2012, will mobilise and rely on the energy of many hundreds of thousands of volunteers specifically for that event.

We know that Britain stands well in international comparisons of volunteering. It is unclear exactly how much volunteering is done, as different studies show different numbers, but we are exceeded only by Norway, among comparable countries, on the number of people who do any volunteer work. About half of Norway’s population are volunteers, compared with about 30 per cent. of ours. However, if one measures the number of volunteer hours rather than the number of volunteers, we slip down the ranks to fifth among comparable, developed nations. We compare rather less well with Sweden and the Netherlands, in particular, on the contribution that is made by volunteers. They are well ahead on volunteering as a share of gross domestic product. Those figures suggest that there are very different patterns in different countries, as one would expect.

In Britain, lots of people do some volunteering, but a smaller proportion here than in other countries volunteer regularly. Volunteers are spread pretty evenly across age ranges, with no huge bias in any particular range. Women are twice as likely as men to volunteer, as are those who describe themselves as religious. The Charity Awareness Monitor independent quarterly review shows that except for a few shallow peaks and troughs, the level of volunteering has remained essentially unchanged at a little below 20 per cent. To add to that confused picture, while some volunteering organisations say that they are reaching saturation point, others warn of a shortage.

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Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the excellent work being done by the third sector and volunteers in prisons and youth offender institutes? They are going in and helping youngsters, in particular, to rebuild their self-esteem. Above all, they are giving them the confidence to go out and find work when they leave prison. Is he aware that many volunteers are put off by the over-onerous and over-bureaucratic work of the Criminal Records Bureau, which puts in place obstacles that surely should not be quite as tight as they are?

Mr. Maude: I shall come to exactly that concern. I was going to mention the work on penal reform and the incredibly important work that needs to be done to address our appalling rates on the reconviction and reimprisonment of prisoners. My hon. Friend puts his finger on an important point.

Some parts of the volunteering sector have as many volunteers as they need, whereas others warn of a shortage. That indicates that episodic volunteering is flourishing, rather than the kind of long-term commitment that most volunteering organisations seek. Youth organisations such as the Scouts and Guides are, happily, growing fast, but they are finding it hard to recruit enough leaders to cope with the serious growth in the number of young people who want to take part in those activities.

There have also been shortages in the public service. The number of special constables has dropped sharply in the past 10 years. The National Trust reports an increase in volunteer numbers but a decrease in the amount of time that the average volunteer can contribute. At the same time, there is evidence that some existing volunteers are taking on ever more responsibilities. It is not surprising that in a Volunteering England survey of charities, 86 per cent. of respondents said that their priority was to keep existing volunteers rather than to search for new recruits.

A fantastic amount is being done, and nothing that we or any other party proposes should in any way diminish our recognition and celebration of that. Every volunteer whom I meet—I expect that other hon. Members have found the same—passionately wants more people to volunteer and volunteers to do more.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend pay tribute to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, whose headquarters are just outside my constituency? The RNLI is a great example of how a national charity can not only raise funds but perform an important service, rescuing up to 22 people a day. It succeeds because it is independent of Government interference.

Mr. Maude: The RNLI is an amazing national institution that carries out a crucial public service in an exemplary way. My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point: the fact that the RNLI is able to raise that funding and to use volunteers to the extent that it does puts it in the happy position of being independent of government. The pluralism to which that contributes is a crucial part of a free and civil society. I am grateful to him for drawing attention to that point.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a real challenge for volunteering in an era of high employment is encouraging people who are in work to do voluntary work? One of the
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most powerful ways of doing that is to persuade volunteers how much they can personally gain from volunteering.

Mr. Maude: I totally agree, and I shall come to that point, which has been addressed in our policy paper that was published yesterday. There are great benefits not only for the employees who give their time to volunteer, but for employers. I shall return to that point towards the end of my speech.

We support the Government’s desire to build on what already exists, and we share many of their ambitions, but I want to look at their record. I do not want to be churlish or partisan, but there are some differences of approach that it would be only right to highlight in the debate. In recent years, there has been a bit of a tendency for Ministers to launch one “eye-catching initiative”—as Tony Blair used to describe them—after another to boost volunteer head count. There is a suspicion—these are not my words—that many of those initiatives amount to little more than a launch, a lunch and a logo. Despite the evidence that a culture of volunteering has to be grown from the bottom up, the Government have slightly tended to prefer a top-down approach involving high-profile Government initiatives. Rather than investing in the grass roots of volunteering, there has been a tendency to create more public bodies that, from the top, aim to change what happens.

Tom Levitt: I noticed that catchy phrase, “a launch, a lunch and a logo” on page 22 of the right hon. Gentleman’s document. Will he give us some examples of initiatives that he thinks have failed in that sense?

Mr. Maude: I am coming to exactly that point. An example would be the Experience Corps. A volunteering initiative was set up by the Government. It was aimed at retired people—a splendid objective—but it greatly underperformed in relation to its targets and was subsequently abandoned.

Tom Levitt: The right hon. Gentleman might not be aware that, in three weeks’ time, I shall be hosting the annual event of the Experience Corps in the House. The organisation has certainly not been abandoned. When it was set up, it was intended to be a three-year programme, but it is now in its eighth year. It deals not only with retired people but with people over the age of 50. We have a problem with this year’s event, in that it is significantly over-subscribed by hon. Members who are working with the Experience Corps to draw attention to the work of older volunteers in their constituencies. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would like to congratulate the Experience Corps, five years after Government support for it finished at the end of the programme, on still being a thriving and active organisation.

Mr. Maude: I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but my understanding is that the Experience Corps has not met the targets that were set for it, and that the Government have had to come back and chop and change in a way that has been disadvantageous. I am delighted that lots of our colleagues across the House are going to attend the event; that is very good news. However, that organisation is an example of the kind of top-down approach that does not always work.

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Another, more recent, example is v, another volunteering initiative with a splendid objective, aimed at young people. It is still establishing itself, and so far, its impact has inevitably been limited. I made a visit in my constituency that was set up by v in order to show me exactly what it did. I visited a voluntary organisation based in West Sussex, and I am afraid that I came away from it without any sense of what v was doing that added to an initiative that was already busy and successful. There were words rather than actions, and it was not clear that anything was going to be done in the future that was not already being done by that excellent organisation.

Tom Levitt: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again. I will leave him alone in just a moment. I hope that, in November, he will take part in an event in the House: v will invite Members of Parliament to bring young volunteers from their constituencies, so that we can come together to celebrate the work of young volunteers. There are new initiatives in my constituency and elsewhere that are being helped along by v. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bring a young volunteer from his constituency, with whom he has been working over the next few months, to that celebration later in the year.

Mr. Maude: Of course I would be delighted to do so, but we all do this kind of thing all the time. I suspect that, every Friday in our constituencies, we are all visiting organisations in which young, middle-aged and old volunteers are doing fantastic work. We celebrate that all the time, and it is important that we should give our support in that way.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): The hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) and I were members of Baroness Neuberger’s commission, and he will know that, when we had the opportunity to discuss those matters with volunteers, v was raised by a number of those who were working with young people’s organisations. They said that they were not quite sure why v was there or what it was adding. Perhaps, in time, that will change, but that concern was raised during the commission’s work. It might be helpful to my right hon. Friend to know that the concerns that he is expressing have also been raised by others close to the coal face.

Mr. Maude: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. I should stress that, when I made that local visit, I went there almost wanting to be persuaded, really wanting to understand what was being done that had not previously been done, and why v was needed. I went with the most open mind in the world, but I could not see anything being done that would not otherwise have been done.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): The problem with these debates is that they often descend into a discussion on who celebrates the role of the voluntary sector the most. The truth is that all this is nonsense about celebrating the voluntary sector. I spend a lot of time with people who work in the sector—we are holding the awards for the Poverty Fighters Alliance in July, for example—and what they say, time and again, is, “Visits to the House of Commons and celebrations are okay, but just release
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us, give us the ability to find the money and let us get on with the job. We don’t want to be celebrated; we want to celebrate the work that we do ourselves.”

Mr. Maude: Speaking of recognition, the House should recognise the work that my right hon. Friend has done, particularly through the Centre for Social Justice, which has been absolutely superb. It has promoted good practice and focused attention on what can be done when inspiring, dedicated people commit themselves to solving social challenges. He has done the country an enormous service in focusing on those issues in recent years. I totally take on board the point that he has made about what the people who run these organisations want—namely, to be allowed to get on with the job that they have been inspired to do.

We have mentioned Baroness Neuberger’s commission, on which my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) and the hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) served. The commission noted

which focused on a

It concluded that

There are issues, and it is important that we seek to address them with an open spirit.

There is an urgent need to promote volunteering, as well as other non-state activity, in what we believe to be the rather ill-named third sector. There is growing consensus across the political spectrum that the limit to the size of the taxpayer-funded state has been reached or exceeded. We read remarks by the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn), the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane), and we see the Lib Dems’ direction of travel; it is clear that there are no longer any serious advocates, outside the ranks of doctrinal statists, for the state as the answer to all social ills.

Of course, there remain pressing social challenges for today’s Britain. We think of the linking of family breakdown with crime and addiction, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) has done a huge amount to highlight. We already have the largest prison population in Europe, yet we can also see the appalling record of prisoners being reconvicted and imprisoned within two years of their release. We see 2.6 million people with disabilities on incapacity benefit, when so many could and would prefer to be in some sort of work. We see the pockets of acute poverty that still exist in too many parts of our country.

Addressing those challenges requires active intervention, because in most cases the key to success is breaking the cycle of deprivation. That means treating each person individually and working with them in a holistic way to solve their problems. The state is not good at that.

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Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I am particularly grateful to my right hon. Friend for making the point about the importance of volunteers to criminal justice and about the concern in the community that we have important role models, not least male and young adult role models, who can lead young people into better ways. The Scout Association is an example of a group providing fine grassroots work, but it needs young adults to come through as volunteers. We need to provide flexibility and support to grassroots organisations to provide the work that will lead young people away from crime.

Mr. Maude: My hon. Friend makes an important point very well. The Scouts are expanding, which is excellent, but they need the encouragement of new leaders and volunteers to come in and work with young people to provide exactly the sort of support that my hon. Friend mentioned, particularly male role models. Many boys and young men are growing up without a father in their lives and, in many cases, without any male teachers; the proportion of male teachers in primary schools is now down to 10 per cent. or so, and is 20 per cent. in secondary schools. There are lots of young men growing up without any male role models in their lives, which is a concern.

The state is not good at that holistic treatment of the challenged individual—the individual with significant problems which society has a vested interest in solving—but voluntary organisations, charities and social enterprises are good at that. That is why our approach to these challenges unashamedly places emphasis on the role of an active and enlarged civil society.

Ian Lucas: I am listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman in what is an interesting debate. Does he agree that there is one very important role that the state must play, which is to provide a high level of sustained investment in the provision of services? Is not the reality that we have had a sustained level of high investment from the state in the voluntary sector over the past 11 years? Is he saying that his party would match that?

Mr. Maude: When the hon. Gentleman has time to read our paper, he will see that one of our concerns is in regard to the compact, one of whose central tenets has been that, where voluntary, third sector organisations provide public services, there should be full cost recovery. As we know, that is much more honoured in the breach than in the observance. We are saying that there should be at least the possibility when that happens for voluntary and other organisations to make a surplus in what they do. Part of the problem is that it is much too difficult for really outstanding organisations that have found innovative and successful ways to address a particular problem to replicate that in different places in the way that a private sector organisation naturally would be able to do.

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