Comment

05.03.18

Building a more diverse society

Karl Wilding, policy director at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), argues that diverse membership in charities and local government is central to a healthy society.

As national champions of volunteering, NCVO knows that getting people active in their communities is vital to the health of our society.

Over 14 million people volunteer for a charity every month. Millions more give their time to help others in informal ways. Our extraordinary collective will to get involved in our communities should be a cause for celebration. NCVO’s recent report, ʻGetting Involvedʼ, maps a huge range of ways people participate, from simple acts like voting or signing petitions, to becoming a councillor.

The report clearly shows that we are a community-minded nation. But behind this, our work also highlights a serious issue of diversity in terms of who is participating. Around 51% of all volunteering hours nationally are contributed by just 9% of the population. We know this group are more likely to be white, middle class and highly-educated. Those living in the most deprived areas are much less likely to volunteer.

When it comes to political action too, those in the highest social grades and with the highest level of education are much more likely to take part. This is true for every kind of activism, even ad-hoc forms, like signing a petition or boycotting goods.

Crucially, this lack of diversity is also reflected in one of the most pronounced forms of civic action ‒ becoming an elected official. The latest data on the demographics of councillors (from 2013) shows most local government representatives to be overwhelmingly white, older, well-educated and male.

People from all backgrounds are involved in active citizenship at all levels. However, certain groups are underrepresented in almost all forms of participation. This is bad for society. Trust in politicians and institutions is already low, and we risk compounding this when people are excluded from having a voice and influence in their community.

Exclusion has personal implications too. There is a wealth of evidence that shows that volunteering is good for confidence, skills and wellbeing. It is often the people who have most to benefit from getting involved who are the most excluded.  When people are being excluded at these levels, is it any wonder we face a diversity issue at the highest levels of local government?

National problem, local solutions

There are a whole range of changes that can be made nationally by government and charities. We told the current Lords Select Committee on citizenship and civic engagement to recognise and support the role of volunteering and charities to citizenship and social cohesion.

While this is a national problem, it is often sitting councillors, in partnership with charities, that are forging innovative local solutions to get more people involved.

Digital exclusion, for example, is a major barrier to participating in society. In Salford, as much as 23% of the adult population lack basic digital skills. Good Things Foundation, in partnership with Salford City Council, have launched a landmark project to support 7,800 disadvantaged people to become independent users of the internet.

By mobilising local community groups and volunteers, they can support others to get online and get involved through better access to local services, community groups and volunteering opportunities in their area.

In London, Haringey Council has partnered with Spice Time Credits to embed participation in approaches to supporting recovery from substance use. Time Credits are like a currency that can be exchanged by service users to access volunteer-led sessions, like art or fitness classes, while service users can earn credits back by volunteering their time to good causes.  Itʼs a simple tool that helps foster civic action amongst some of the most excluded groups and embedding it within support programmes.

Similar initiatives are taking place across the country, and local authorities and councillors can achieve much by working with charities to get more people involved and active in their community. Whether it’s online activism or becoming a councillor, in order to engender trust in public institutions, cohesion in society and solidarity in communities, it is necessary that we enable everyone to participate.

Comments

There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

 

public sector executive tv

more videos >

latest public sector news

Council to spend £4m investigating senior officers who gave themselves 20% wage rise during pay freeze

14/12/2018Council to spend £4m investigating senior officers who gave themselves 20% wage rise during pay freeze

A council has agreed to allocate nearly an extra £250,000 to an investigation looking into alleged pay rises given to senior officers. ... more >
Government commissioner allows Wakefield Council to retain full control of services

14/12/2018Government commissioner allows Wakefield Council to retain full control of services

Almost four months after Ofsted inspectors identified “serious and widespread failures” across Wakefield’s children’s ser... more >
Fife Council scraps controversial P1 assessments despite harsh government opposition

14/12/2018Fife Council scraps controversial P1 assessments despite harsh government opposition

Fife Council has announced that it will be scrapping the controversial standardised P1 assessments at the end of the current academic year. ... more >
149x260 PSE Subscribe button

the raven's daily blog

Blog: 5 minutes with Gary Wallis-Clarke, member of the Northern Powerhouse Education and Skills Group

12/12/2018Blog: 5 minutes with Gary Wallis-Clarke, member of the Northern Powerhouse Education and Skills Group

Ahead of the upcoming networking extravaganza EvoNorth, we caught up with Gary Wallis-Clarke, a member of the Northern Powerhouse Education and Skills group, executive headteacher at West Jesmond Primary school, and its national leader of education. In our interview, Gary reveals what the Northern Powerhouse means to him and explains... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >

interviews

New Dorset Councils CEO on the creation of a new unitary: ‘This is going to be the right decision for Dorset’

05/11/2018New Dorset Councils CEO on the creation of a new unitary: ‘This is going to be the right decision for Dorset’

The new chief executive of one of the new unitary authorities in Dorset has outlined his approach to culture and work with employees, arguing tha... more >
Keeping the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse

15/10/2018Keeping the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse

On 6 September, the biggest decision-makers of the north joined forces to celebrate and debate how to drive innovation and improvement through th... more >
Cllr Cutts on dealing with children’s services pressures: ‘I can’t magic money out of the air’

26/09/2018Cllr Cutts on dealing with children’s services pressures: ‘I can’t magic money out of the air’

The leader of Nottinghamshire County Council has outlined her priorities for dealing with soaring demand of children’s services and social ... more >
Nottinghamshire considers unitary shake-up proposals in a bid to balance books

05/09/2018Nottinghamshire considers unitary shake-up proposals in a bid to balance books

Nottinghamshire County Council is considering proposals to scrap its current two-tier structure for a new unitary system in order to save on... more >

last word

The importance of openness after Grenfell

The importance of openness after Grenfell

Following the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy, Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, argues that if the public are going to have faith in the safety testing process then everything must be out in the o... more > more last word articles >

editor's comment

25/10/2017Take a moment to celebrate

Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this... read more >

public sector focus