News story

Strategic vision for volunteering FAQs

Answers to frequently asked questions.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Why is this a vision and not a strategy?

Volunteers are involved in an enormous array of health and care related activities.  We want more people to be able to give their time, more often and in ways that fit in with their lives to bring health and well-being benefits for themselves and others. However, it is not for Government to define what all these activities should be or to compel people to volunteer. What we can do is influence the environment in which this activity takes place.

That is why we are setting out this broad vision and encouraging leaders and decision makers across health, public health and social care, to work together and to consider more strategically where and how volunteering might help them to meet their respective priorities and improve the quality, equity and outcomes of services and support.


DH published a Strategic Vision for Volunteering in March 2010. Why has a new vision been published so soon?

A strategic vision for volunteering in health and care was originally published on 16 March 2010 under the previous Government. It has been necessary to revise this vision to reflect the changes in health, public health and social care policy and the coalition Government’s overarching Big Society agenda. ‘Social action for health and well-being’ sets out a renewed  vision for volunteering in health and care, which this Government will pursue for the longer term.


How can volunteering help in developing the Government’s vision for a bigger stronger society ?

The Coalition government believes that the innovation and enthusiasm of civil society is essential in tackling the social, economic and political challenges that the UK faces today. Volunteering has its part to play in social action, community empowerment and public service reform, which are key for building a Big Society . Our vision for volunteering will help to foster and support a culture in which volunteering can thrive as part of that Big Society.

The opportunities for young people to get involved in volunteering in health and social care were boosted by the Government’s recent announcement of expanding the National citizen Service to 30,000 places.  This offers year 11 school children the chance to volunteer in their local community, during the summer vacation.


How does the vision take forward Government’s proposals and initiatives in the Giving White Paper.

** **The vision forms part of a bigger programme of work outlined in the Giving White Paper, published in May 2011.  The White Paper will promote measures to make giving (in all senses) more compelling and easier, and provide better support to those that give.  Our vision will encourage and support partners in health and social care in taking forward the aspirations of the White Paper to invest in volunteering and wider social action.

The White Paper includes a number of measures by Government, including a commitment over the next two years of over £40 million of funding to support giving.  This funding will complement existing DH programmes to support voluntary organisations. As a result of the White Paper, the Cabinet Office launched  the Social Action Fund, on 6 October.  This aims to inspire organisations to create new social action opportunities; encouraging people to give what they have, be it time, money, assets, knowledge or specific skills.


How has DH engaged with the public and partners during the vision’s development?

Comprehensive consultation was undertaken toward the end of 2008 to establish consensus around the strategic themes that frame the vision for volunteering. This consultation took place over a four-month period and included involvement of over 750 people in nine regional events as well as online and written consultation. The Department of Health has subsequently worked with key partners across the voluntary sector, local government, NHS and trade unions to develop and refresh the vision. We will continue to work with our cross-sector Stakeholder Reference Group and growing Volunteering Network to inform our future work in these areas.


**Is there any new money attached to support this vision? **

There is no additional funding attached to the vision as it introduces no new mandatory requirements. The strategic vision puts forward a strong case for health and social care leaders, partners, and commissioners to consider when and how volunteering initiatives might support the achievement of priorities, where the benefits in terms of quality or outcomes are estimated to outweigh costs.

As the evidence base for investment in volunteering is improved, we hope to further influence mainstream spend in those areas where volunteer involvement has most to offer in terms of quality and outcomes eg. in peer support and behaviour change, active later life, improving mental health and well being and enhancing patient and public engagement.

The vision will also provide the framework for funding from the Department of Health’s own Health & Social Care Volunteering Fund, which is now open for local applications. Successful applicants will join the 43 existing local projects in receipt of grants from an early round of this fund in 2010. In line with our commitment to good practice in volunteer support, all organisations in receipt of grants through the local fund also receive a package of support to help them to build organisational capacity.


Is this just a way of delivering services on the cheap at a time when Government savings are being made?

Our commitment to promoting and supporting volunteering is not about replacing paid staff with volunteers or finding cheap ways to deliver existing services. The message of this vision is very much about recognising the considerable, and often untapped, potential within our communities, identifying where volunteering can add value in terms of quality and outcomes, enhanced community resilience and innovation in the way services and support are delivered.

We recognise that volunteering itself is not without cost. Support for volunteers (eg. recruitment, training, payment of out of pocket expenses etc.) is essential if their involvement is to be effective, fulfilling and safe and therefore value for money. We put forward a case for investing in volunteering where benefits in terms of quality or outcomes are estimated to outweigh these costs.


Are jobs under threat because of the involvement of volunteers?

The vision makes the distinction between volunteering and paid employment and includes a very clear statement about volunteers not being used to replace paid employees. The emphasis of the vision is very much on the added value that volunteers can bring to services and the complementary nature of the roles they undertake. Our vision encourages leaders to engage and work closely with workforce representatives wherever volunteers are to be involved alongside paid staff. The document also signposts readers to the Charter agreed between the TUC and Volunteering England, which clarifies workforce relations issues and provides a good starting point for discussions between employers and workforce representatives.


Does the vision place unnecessary additional burdens on NHS and local government?

There are no new mandatory requirements introduced as a result of this vision. The vision puts forward a strong case for health and care leaders, partners and commissioners to consider when and how volunteering initiatives might support the achievement of existing priorities, where benefits in terms of quality or outcomes are estimated to outweigh costs.

This is not a new responsibility, it is it is about looking at the services and support available to people starting from an appreciation of the strengths and assets that people can bring to them. Any organisation looking to deliver effective services, support and value for money for local people would want to consider this.


What is the Department of Health expecting local leaders and commissioners to do as a result of this vision?

Where public bodies take this agenda on, for pragmatic and financially sound reasons linked to existing duties and priorities, we would expect to see the value of volunteering considered more fully and reflected more prominently in strategic plans at local and organisational level. In particular, through Joint Strategic Needs Assessment, health and well-being strategies and other local and organisational plans. As a result we would expect to see:

  • more strategic investment in volunteer-involving initiatives and volunteer support
  • more and better supported opportunities for volunteering and wider social action  in health, public health and social care fields
  • higher profile of volunteering activities in health and social care settings
  • more integrated involvement of members of the public (including those who use health and care services, families, carers and volunteers) in service design and delivery
  • better connected, more resilient communities.** **

We are working closely with partners to determine how best to support commissioners of health and social care to take a more holistic view to volunteering, including examining current decision-making tools in the sector.


If there are no mandatory requirements in this document, how is the Department of Health going to ensure change?

The Department of Health has produced this strategic vision to raise the profile of volunteering, stimulate and inform discussion and act as a focal point for the energy and enthusiasm that many leaders across government and the health and care system have for the volunteering agenda. This is a long-term vision that needs to be integrated into approaches to system and cultural change.

We are committed to playing an enabling and facilitative role in this and will work with key partners to take this agenda forward. In doing so, the emphasis will be on influencing key players and encouraging practical action reflected in better information sharing, a more accessible evidence base and locally tailored approaches. We will use the vision as a framework to co-ordinate its own activities and to promote and support action by others across the health and care system.


Where are any new volunteers going to come from? How can you be sure people are willing to volunteer?

The vision document highlights good practice in volunteer support that opens up opportunities to a more diverse range of people and reduces barriers that can prevent people from volunteering.

Evidence indicates a latent potential within our communities for more people to volunteer where the right opportunities are available to them. The vision aims to influence all of these factors.

Where NHS trusts and other organisations have made significant investments in volunteering programmes, considerable numbers of people have come forward for these roles. For example, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust increased the number of volunteers at the trust from 180 to 900 in just three years. Other organisations also report waiting lists of people wanting to give their time. Results from a national survey of volunteering published in 2007 found that over fifty percent of non-volunteers, ex-volunteers and occasional volunteers said that they would like to spend more time volunteering and forty percent said they would help if asked. Enquiries about volunteering through Volunteer Centres and online through have increased since the start of the recession.


Aren’t there risks in engaging volunteers in health and social care provision?

Any provider carrying out regulated activities must register with the Care Quality Commission whose requirements apply to volunteers as well as paid staff. Our vision makes clear that good quality volunteer support is essential to ensuring that volunteering is effective and safe for volunteers and for those they work with.


What are the benefits to individuals who choose to volunteer?

Volunteering presents a wealth of opportunities for people to learn new skills, share ideas and experiences, meet other people and contribute more to their community. Involvement in volunteering can help contribute to improved physical and mental health well-being, help to keep people to active, engaged and independent and nurture a sense of shared social responsibility and increased community resilience as a result.

Volunteering can encourage interaction between generations, addressing prejudices and negative preconceptions.  It reduces social isolation, something that can be damaging to health and well-being, particularly in later life.


How will voluntary organisations be able to continue to invest in volunteering in the current economic climate?

We are sending the message to local authorities and PCTs that the voluntary sector should not shoulder a disproportionate share of funding cuts.

It is important that we do not lose vital local services that achieve high quality outcomes and we will therefore work with PCT’s in the transition to the new arrangements with the NHS Commissioning Board and clinical commissioning groups, as they develop, to ensure that the sector’s contribution to improved health, public health and social care is recognised.

Published 17 October 2011