Hazel Bloor is Volunteering Development Officer for Step Forward Tees Valley in Middlesbrough, based at MVDA. She supports participants on the SFTV programme to access volunteer roles within the VCO sector in Middlesbrough, as well as running a new supported group volunteering programme called ‘Community Heroes’ in partnership with Changing Lives.
This may seem a strange opening line from someone who works on a programme which aims to support people on the path toward training and employment, but one of the things that has been most apparent to me since starting this job is how undervalued people feel by society if they don’t have a paid job.
And yet the people I have met through this role are giving back to their communities and their families in so many other ways – as carers for partners who are unwell, as community volunteers, and by providing childcare for children and grandchildren.
So yes, having paid work is important for many of us to help maintain our well-being, our sense of purpose and - where decent living wages are paid - as a route out of poverty. The SFTV Community Heroes programme aims to up-skill people and build their confidence and self-esteem through volunteering, as one of several ways to help them down the route toward paid work.
But let’s not forget to value the essential unpaid roles that many of us take on and which aren’t being shouted about and for which people aren’t being thanked. Instead of hearing too many stories about people ‘taking’ benefits to the detriment of other ‘hard-working’ people who pay their taxes, let’s talk about the many ways in which people contribute to their community through unpaid work- children don’t bring themselves up and we are all increasingly relying on friends, neighbours and relatives outside of the formal health and social care system to look after our care needs. In addition to this there are the multiple community initiatives which exist across Middlesbrough such as soup kitchens for the homeless, holiday clubs for children and weekly social events for those feeling isolated are increasingly volunteer-led as the voluntary and community sector face bigger funding cuts.
It’s time to stop valuing people solely for whether they have a pay cheque or a benefit payment and start valuing people for the roles that define us outside of the workplace or the job centre as well. These can’t be defined in monetary terms, but without them, our communities wouldn’t function and will never thrive.