- Posted by: Joyce Watson MS
- Categories: Blog, Feature
Last Wednesday we had a lively debate in the Senedd about the role of volunteers in the Welsh ‘big society’.
It got pretty animated because the coalition government’s flag-ship policy has been criticised by many people who see it as a cover for public spending cuts.
In my view, Wales has a long and deep tradition of community action and cooperation so the big society is nothing new to us. We are lucky to have people like June Beer, who this paper reported on last week, who has worked tirelessly to improve the lot of patients at Glangwili Hospital for over 40 years. In the same edition I read about CVC Radio, a new voluntary radio station broadcasting from Carmarthen and the fantastic charity book collection by members of the 5th Carmarthen Scouts.
The dedication of volunteers makes life in all our communities that much richer, safer and more enjoyable and it’s always nice when their efforts are recognised and celebrated.
Back to that debate, and as I listened to the arguments of members on different sides of the Siambr I recalled a speech by Bill Bradley, a former Democratic US Senator. In it, he likened society to a three legged stool, where one leg is the private sector, one leg is the public sector and the third leg is the voluntary sector. It’s a useful metaphor and if we stick with the image we can imagine how the stool wobbles when the legs are very different lengths.
And that’s the problem if the big society simply means volunteers being asked to provide public services on the cheap. The voluntary sector receives government support through initiatives like Communities First, which the Communities Minister revamped last week , and without this funding many charities struggle to stay afloat, especially those that deliver less mainstream services that struggle to secure enough donations and volunteers. My worry is that public funding cuts mean many services will either disappear or be privatised – and the stool wobbles.
We all commend volunteering but people can’t volunteer at a youth club or a day centre if it’s being closed down. And where will all the people needed to carry out voluntary work come from? I hope not from those in the public and third sector that lose their jobs and are then expected to do their old jobs for nothing or to qualify for benefits.