Where can government help? Taking a look at the Giving Green Paper

06Jan11

Last month the government realised the Giving Green Paper to open up discussion around how charity, community and giving help create the Big Society, through the three key elements of empowering communities, opening up public services and encouraging social action.

Much of the paper reflected lessons that we’ve learnt through the first phase of Have a Go Heroes, with a number of points complimenting – and clashing with – our findings on how communities could provide services:

Will vs Belief

“People giving what they have, be that their time, their money, or their assets, knowledge and skills, to support good causes and help make life better for all.”

We’ve been giving a lot of thought to the idea of people “giving what they have”.  To help create active communities, individuals need to feel as though they can chip in as much or as little as possible, with as much or as little free time as they have. The paper argues that “Although the UK is a generous nation we could do so much more.” It’s true that increasing people’s will to volunteer and recognising involvement is *A Good Thing*. However, I would argue that the real opportunity here is not increasing the will of citizens to give more time, or to convince them to help out at all, but to make volunteering accessible to people to give what little time they do have. In short, building confidence and supporting people to understand that they can get involved will help the Big Society, rather than trying to manufacture the will from above. This is perhaps, a more realistic space for government to help.

“We want to hear how [web] platforms like these can help people to donate time in non- traditional ways. In particular, we want to know where they can help people who otherwise might not be able to donate their time at all and whether government can do more to help these groups participate.”

The paper briefly mentions CRB checks, but this is a huge hurdle when it comes to transforming how local authority may be able to provide a service in a different and better way. The paper claims that an incredible 49 per cent of non-volunteers who would like to give time are put off by bureaucracy. It’s for this reason that we’re really excited about the work Anna Pearson is up to, not just with Spots of Time but also her Simple CRB project, which with the support of Bethnal Green Ventures is looking at how we can change the CRB checking process to allow people to provide their free time without going through a long-winded and costly process.

Giving vs Support

When it comes to free time, volunteering and support seem to be merged together as one. However, through our work we found local peer to peer support developed from within a community seemed much more sustainable, realistic and valued than simply being helped when in need (a far more reactionary approach). We looked to international examples such as Senior Corps, a successful programme in America where older adults are asked to use their experience and talents, as well as receive help from others as an example of this working in reality. I pondered this over twitter and had some interesting responses, this from Tom Neumark summed up this division, and suggests how support seems to be a better fit for the idea of a true Big Society, rather than the notion of giving and traditional volunteering:

“We want social action to become a truly mass-phenomenon – and to encourage people who currently give only sporadically, or not at all, to join the band of committed individuals who regularly give their time and money to social causes.”

This aim, from the Green Paper, is the most ambitious of all. But perhaps by lifting restrictions on offering free time combined with the ability for local authorities to collaborate effectively with small scale innovation that is allowed to grow inside a local community, government will be able to help facilitate a Big Society that is both sustainable and reliable. Both huge tasks, but well worth pursuing.

This is a hot topic at the moment, and we’d love to hear your thoughts, or if you would like to get involved in any way with Have a Go Heroes. Feel free to either leave a comment below or send us a tweet over on @HaveaGoHeroes.

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