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Linking volunteering and social mobility: New departure or false start


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This seminar was the third in a series of seminars focusing on volunteering in a fair society organised by IVR in partnership with the ESRC and Northumbria University. This event explored how individuals and communities can most effectively make their voices heard.

In this presentation Dr Susan Baines (Reader in social policy) discusses the link between volunteering and social mobility.

Past presentations from the Institute of Volunteering Research website can be found at the following location -

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Linking volunteering and social mobility: New departure or false start

  1. 1. Linking volunteering and social mobility: New departure or false start? Dr Susan Baines Reader in Social Policy Department of SocialWork and Social Change Manchester Metropolitan University 1
  2. 2. Volunteering & Social Mobility  Both prominent in public policy -  Long tradition of sociological and economic research on social mobility  Volunteering research expanding  Rarely linked together in policy or research – should they be?  The role of universities  Reflect on volunteering in policy and research  What can / should we as researchers contribute? Volunteering & Social Mobility Northumbria 2
  3. 3. Social mobility research 3  Income mobility – economic research based on British birth cohort studies showed less inter-generational mobility for people born in 1970 than in 1958 (Blanden et al. 2005) - widely quoted  Class mobility – sociological research points to structural mobility (the shape of class structures changed as occupations grew and declined) as well as individual movement - a different picture emerges from examining social mobility by class (Goldthorpe and Mills (2008).
  4. 4. Social mobility & policy 4 A cause of concern across the political spectrum The Government vision for a more socially mobile UK set out in Opening doors,breaking barriers:A strategy for social mobility Cabinet Office (2011) “Improving social mobility is the principal goal of the government’s social policy.” Meaning inter-generational social mobility - prioritises policy interventions on early years and education
  5. 5. Volunteering 5  Public Policy has emphasised volunteering for employability especially for young people  Framed as a way to accrue individual benefits in the forms of experience, contacts, skills  Some kinds of volunteer experience are valuable for CV building and gaining labour market skills – we tell our students so……..
  7. 7. Volunteering as work experience – some critiques 7  Marginalises volunteers who are unable to seek paid work  Volunteer using orgs. have other priorities  Does not fit the caring and neighbouring people value especially in deprived communities  Aligns volunteering with welfare-to-work policies - yet one of the criticisms of welfare-to-work has been that it devalues non-marketised activity  Associated with professionalisation of volunteering - formalised training, selection, appraisal, accreditation etc.  Risk averse  Narrow perception of volunteering
  8. 8. Making sense of volunteering 8  Mutual aid - individuals with a shared experience or situation working together to bring about change.  Philanthropy - altruism towards people who are perceived as different and less fortunate Mutual aid and philanthropy are oriented towards social justice, not individual advancement. Both are part of the history of volunteering, long predating recent enthusiasm of governments Highly resonant for volunteers although they rarely use the actual terms (Baines and Hardill, 2008)
  9. 9. Examples of meanings Philanthropy “ I feel that I’m fortunate and perhaps I should be doing something to help other people who are less fortunate....... these are people who live on their own – they don’t get out very much and me going is important to them” Mutual aid “ I think one of the reasons that I do it is because what most of these people are going through I’ve done it and I’ve come through the other end. I never make the mistake of saying, I know what you’re going through, because I don’t. I know what I went through and if its anything like mine then they need the support.” 9
  10. 10. Where does volunteering fit into the vision for a more socially mobile UK? 10  Volunteers to help raise young people’s aspirations - get up to 100,000 people into schools and colleges to talk about their jobs and careers  Raise level ofVCS engagement with Sure Start Children’s centres and boost relationship support thoughVCSOs  National Citizen Service – (does not use words volunteer or volunteering)  WorkTogether will‘develop work skills through volunteering’ (p. 61 not discussed) Source Opening doors,breaking barriers So actually not much
  11. 11. Social mobility – what makes a difference 11  Quality, accessible early years education  Better schools with better teachers and other educational resources, and a better classroom environment  Access to professional employment  Improving health services in poor areas  Higher Education Source: ESRC social mobility evidence briefings
  12. 12. Universities and social mobility 12  Higher education for students from low income families  MMU’s performance on social mobility is particularly impressive. 38.7 per cent of their undergraduates are from households with incomes of less than £20,000 a year …. a contribution to society of £147 million a year in greater fairness, meritocracy and social inclusion (nef 2011, p.17) Helping to raise aspirations through mentoring in schools by students and staff Evidence from community outreach work [Warwick University] also demonstrates the difference universities can make to aspirations (nef 2011, p.19)
  13. 13. So what? 13  Volunteering‘in danger of being misunderstood, misused and over-loaded’ (Worsley, 1999: 75)  Social mobility is a‘wicked problem’  Some of the ways research shows it could be advanced seem unlikely in times of austerity  Trying to link volunteering in the guise of work preparation and skill development with social mobility is probably a false start  Some kinds of volunteering may nevertheless be able to make a contribution (as in the example of HEI community outreach)  Researchers interested in volunteering need to ask better questions  Over to you ……………
  14. 14. Sue Baines