This factsheet provides a snapshot in April 2014 of some of the key trends and associated opportunities and risks for volunteer programmes and volunteer-involving organisations in Tower Hamlets.

Factsheet 10. Volunteering in Tower Hamlets: key trends, opportunities and risks

This factsheet provides a snapshot in April 2014 of some of the key trends and associated opportunities and risks for volunteer programmes and Volunteer Involving Organisations (VIOs) in Tower Hamlets.

Contents list


Economic trends

The recession

Over 10,000 Tower Hamlets residents of working age are unemployed and looking for work. This is the third highest rate in London and one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. In September 2012, 6.2% of the population was unemployed.

Ranked as the seventh most deprived borough nationally on the government’s Indices of Multiple Deprivation, inequality is stark, with almost 18% of households living on less than £15,000, while in 2011, the average gross annual earnings of those working in the borough was over £78,000.
Only 15% of jobs in the boroughs are taken by local residents – 85% are filled by those travelling in from across all quarters of London, and from other parts of the South East.

Between July 2011 and June 2012 the working age employment rate of Bangladeshis was 39%, significantly lower than both the rate for white residents at 78% and the national average.  Tower Hamlets has the second lowest female employment rate in London – second only to Newham.

The rate of youth unemployment for 16-24 year olds rose in Tower Hamlets from 4.8% in 2008 to 6.5% in 2012, well above the London average of 4.4% and this situation has worsened since 2012.  48.6% of children in Tower Hamlets live in poverty – 27,915 children. This is the highest rate in the UK.


Funding environment

There is increased competition for funding, while commissioning contracts increasingly require voluntary organisations to pay the living wage. Funders' priorities are shifting towards employment outcomes. A large number of VIOs are closing down or merging.
Opportunities. There could be more people interested in volunteering as they are  unemployed or underemployed, with a greater need for volunteering roles on financial/debt advice or citizens' advice. More potential volunteers will be referred by the Job Centre Plus.

There is also a possible supply of skilled volunteers who are working in Canary Wharf or the City fringe, with potential for engaging and securing donations from companies and from wealthy residents. Visit the City Action toolkit on corporate/community partnership.

Risks. There could be fewer volunteering opportunities in the borough, and fewer Volunteer Management jobs as organisations close down or have fewer resources to support staff and volunteers.

Skilled volunteers often have high expectation in terms of support. With staff cuts in VIOs, this could be a challenge for Volunteer Managers.
Quality accreditations such as Investing in Volunteers could be useful in enabling VIOs to stand from the crowd, but may be less affordable, particularly to smaller VIOs.

Bigger and organised volunteer programmes may succeed in this environment. With staffing cuts, VIOs might consider using volunteers to manage volunteer programmes. VIOs may need to be careful to avoid job substitution, replacing staff posts with volunteers.  Find out more on job substitution

VIOs may be less able to pay volunteer expenses, or may ask volunteers to pay the admin fee of their DBS checks.  This will exclude people on low incomes from volunteering. VIOs that offer expenses may be more able to recruit and retain volunteers. Access VCTH factsheet on volunteer expenses.


Immigration and ethnic diversity

41% of the borough’s population were born outside the UK. 90 different languages are spoken in Tower Hamlets schools.  Almost three quarters of school age children speak a language other than English.

The borough’s population continues to be ethnically diverse, with almost half of residents coming from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. The borough is home to the largest Bangladeshi population in the UK; 33% of local people come from a Bangladeshi background. The Somali community is thought to be the second largest minority ethnic group, although current Census classifications mean that we do not have accurate figures. There has also been a rise in immigration from EU accession countries.
Religion continues to play a prominent role in the lives of many of the borough’s population, with 80% of residents claiming a religious belief.
Over 81% of residents aged 19 and under are from minority ethnic communities. In contrast, 58% of the population aged over 30 are from White ethnic groups.
Like other inner London boroughs, Tower Hamlets has a high rate of population ‘churn’ with lots of people moving in and out of the borough, and within the borough each year. Approximately 29% of the Tower Hamlets population moves each year. Demographics are changing, with the percentage of young people and older people increasing. Young families and middle aged people are moving out. Highly skilled people are moving into Tower Hamlets to buy property, particularly new builds.
It is estimated that 21,000 people in Tower Hamlets provide unpaid care and support to a family member, partner or friend. This is similar to the national average. 

Opportunities. It is likely there will be more demand for volunteer roles at both ends of the spectrum, from highly skilled people and also from lower skilled people who want to improve their employability.  

VIOs may have to offer flexible opportunities, to capitalise on skilled volunteers’ availability at weekends or evenings, while retaining opportunities for those available during the working week. VIOs may need to be flexible around the needs of volunteers who are also carers.

VIOs may wish to consider involving volunteer interpreters in order to enhance communication with their client groups. This guide from the USA has some helpful tips for volunteer interpreters.

Secular VIOs may consider how to be inclusive of potential volunteers whose faith is their motivation for volunteering. Access the Research by the Institute of Volunteering Research on faith and voluntary action.

Risks. It is possible to see an increase in people volunteering for UCAS points for University applications or to build their CVs. This puts pressure on VIOs to provide structured learning opportunities for their volunteers, including accredited learning such as ASDAN certificates in volunteering. 


Welfare reforms

With forthcoming changes in benefits system to Universal Credit, there is likely to be increased economic hardship for unemployed volunteers.  

There is also currently a lack of clarity on the changes, timescales and impact on volunteering, and possible confusion among Job Centre Plus (JCP) advisers on whether (and how many hours) claimants are allowed to volunteer. Volunteers have to prioritise their JCP commitments, e.g. attending courses. VIOs will have to be flexible around this.  


Local Elections

Local Council and mayoral elections in May 2014 may affect social policy, with possible cuts or reallocation of funding, depending on the new Mayor’s priorities. It will be difficult to predict the level of cuts and what services may be affected.

There is a possibility that right-wing political parties, such as the BNP, the English Defence League and UKIP may see an increase in the voting share.

Opportunities. Cuts to Council services could mean increased  need for the voluntary sector to step in. Reduced budgets could mean a greater need for volunteers to deliver essential services.

Tower Hamlets has a long and proud history of fighting extremism and racism. The rise of BNP, UKIP and EDL may produce an increase in the number of people wanting to volunteer in campaigning and political activism. Any threat of extremism could lead to more funding for community cohesion activities, or for organisations in Tower Hamlets to access funding from Trusts and Foundations.

Risks. It is unlikely that additional funding will be made available for the voluntary sector to respond to any cuts in public services.


The Charter of Child Rights

The Charter of Child Rights was launched by the Mayor of Tower Hamlets on 11 March 2014. Organisations that work with children and young people in Tower Hamlets can sign up to the Charter, committing themselves to upholding all the articles in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to paying particular regard to the ten points deemed particularly important by local youngsters.

A pilot ran in late 2011, which focused on using a child rights based approach in the commissioning of the substance misuse treatment service for young people. This involved providers, who submitted bids to provide a substance misuse treatment service, demonstrating how a child’s rights will be considered as equally as their needs during the delivery of the service. Find out more.
Opportunities. VIOs that work with young people as service users or involve young volunteers should be aware of the Charter, and make sure that their staff and volunteers are aware of its implications. VIOs should consider integrating children's rights in the services they deliver, offering training to staff members and volunteers to raise the profile of child rights, allowing participation and involvement of young people, listening to young, people and using their expertise. Visit GLV resources on increasing volunteering opportunities for young people.


It's all about mobiles

Increasingly, many people have smart phones and tablets, giving them 24 hour connectivity.
NCVO research has found that there has been a rise in micro volunteering, bite-size volunteering with no commitment to repeat and with minimum formality, involving short and specific actions that are quick to start and complete.

Opportunities. VIOs can use social media to manage volunteers, use technology to streamline their volunteer management processes, e.g. on-line application forms. The use of online survey tools (such as Survey Monkey and Doodle) can be useful in managing volunteers and VIOs should consider volunteer roles that can be performed from home.

VIOs can consider whether micro-volunteering is right for them. NCVO have an useful Guide to Micro –Volunteering

Risks. Some people are not connected to the internet, or are not IT literate, and may be excluded from volunteering. VIOs should consider having a range of communication methods to cater for those who need more face-to-face interaction.
The social aspect of volunteering - a significant motivation factor for many people - could be reduced by remote or online volunteering.


Volunteering, but not by choice

Volunteering may be perceived as a form of sanction, for example the Earn Your Travel Back scheme, where young people are encouraged to undertake volunteering to access free travel if they have had this benefit removed. There are also cases of people on welfare benefits being told by Job Centre advisers that they must volunteer in order to continue receiving benefits.

As a result, VIOs may be approached by people who feel ‘forced’ to volunteer, but are not motivated to do so, taking up time of Volunteer Managers. VIOs could talk this through with the individual, to agree whether they actually want to volunteer. Suggesting an interesting role may engage the potential volunteer’s interest. However, volunteering should be freely given, and nobody should be coerced into it against their will.


Raising the Participation Age (RPA)

In 2013 the government increased the age to which all young people in England must continue in education or training. This must be until the end of the academic year in which they turn 17 (from 2015 this will be until they turn 18). This does not necessarily mean school; young people have a choice of how they continue in post-16 education.

When they complete Key Stage 4, they will need to pick from three options including full-time education (sixth form college or home education), work-based learning like apprenticeships, or part-time education or training if employed, self-employed or volunteering full-time (defined as more than twenty hours per week for more than 8 weeks at a time).


Criminal record checks

In 2013 there were several changes to the system of criminal record checking, which changed from the Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). For further information see the VCTH factsheet on DBS checks.

Opportunities. The raise participation age (RPA) may cause an increase in demand among young people for volunteering roles which they could do alongside part-time study. Other young people may want to fit in part-time volunteering around full-time study. VIOs may also consider taking on young people as apprentices

Risks. With RPA, those who are working full-time will also continue with part-time education, so they are unlikely to have much spare time, meaning that volunteering opportunities will have to fit around their other commitments.

It is illegal for VIOs to apply for a DBS check unless the role is eligible for one. The registered umbrella body that is processing the check should advise you whether the role is eligible. If the DBS deems the role to be ineligible, it will decline to process the check.

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