At this point in time most of us can all agree on one thing: that from May 07th, this country will out of necessity, have to embark on an austerity programme not seen since the end of the second world war. Depending on your grasp of arithmetic, there will have to be on average £50billion worth of public expenditure cuts each year over the lifetime of the next two parliaments. This means that the 2010’s will come to be regarded, as the decade where the government took on the role of a back seat driver, and the voluntrary sector in particular, found itself increasingly called upon to pilot the ship.
At this stage I ought to declare my interest. I volunteer locally for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, where we provide support and assistance to approx 160 people within the West Midlands County Areas including; Birmingham, Solihull, Walsall, Sandwell, Wolverhampton & Dudley. Whenever the term “5- a day” gets mentioned, to most people it conjours up the amount of fresh fruit and veg the health police tell us we need to include in our daily diet. To those living with this vile disease, their families, carers, healthcare professionals and volunteers such as myself, 5- a day represents on average, the daily death rate from Motor Neurone Disease in the UK . To describe the difficulties faced in obtaining fast and accurate diagnosis, and a fully planned care programme responsive to the ever changing and in some cases rapid deterioration of a patients condition, would require more space than this blog allows. Suffice to say, due to the lack of a national care strategy for MND, we are increasingly becoming aware of cases where the MND Association has had to step in, when statutory social services are either unwilling or unable to provide all but critical care any longer.
Apart from the personal, the other reason for posting this article was a piece in The Guardian on April 29th last, which highlighted a report published in the annual citizenship survey. Over the past five years, charitable giving and volunteering has declined in the English regions despite government attempts to encourage both. see http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/apr/29/donations-charity-volunteering-decline for the full article.
Without regurgitating all the statistics, the case for improving the current 26% of employers who currently operate or encourage a volunteering scheme is one which should not be difficult to make. However, it seems only the larger corporate business world appears to be the most willing, through whatever corporate or ethical business policy it may be pursuing at the time. The backbone of any successful economy is the SME sector, many of whom have a local identity which has often existed for several generations. Despite all of this, the proportion of people who told the survey they had taken part in at least one voluntary activity over the past twelve months had fallen from 43% to 38% over the previous two years, a sign surely, that many of those who did participate have also fallen victim to the recession.
Businesses large and small, but particularly the latter, now have an opportunity to step up to the plate and encourage their people to seek out opportunities where they can make a difference within their communities. The feeling of goodwill toward those needing help is always reciprocated by those in receipt of such help, and it doesn’t do the employers reputation any harm either. For those businesses who provide goods or services direct to the general public, it could even provide another revenue stream to complement or even consolidate their existing ones. Many charitable organisations are happy to endorse a product or service which proves it can assist those with specific needs, and for degenerative conditions such as MND, there is already a healthy market for providing things like mobility scooters, special handheld mobile telephones, lightreaders, walking aids etc.
My appeal today as a volunteer, to local businesses in the West Midlands is this. Please look to the future and encourage your people to help those less able to help themselves and their families.
It’s not always about monetary donations welcome though they always are, it is also about perhaps the best gift of all – the gift of your time however small, to help others.