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The act of volunteering, contributing and making a difference for others builds a sense of ownership and engagement in community wellbeing. Our terms of reference explicitly identify volunteering in the Government’s vision of the welfare system as "part of an integrated Government approach that enables people to be earning, learning, caring or volunteering and ensures a dignified life for those for whom these options are not possible". The Government also places a high value on meaningful participation in communities.

We consider volunteering could enable people in receipt of a benefit to:

  • participate meaningfully in their communities
  • develop knowledge, skills and work habits that contribute to work readiness
  • support the community infrastructure that enables people with a health condition or disability or with caring responsibilities to meaningfully participate in communities.

Within the 'mutual expectations framework' that forms a significant component of our recommendations, volunteering is a valuable tool that MSD should encourage to help people develop useful labour market skills and habits while also participating in their communities.

Through volunteering, people are intrinsically rewarded by contributing to the communities they value, developing habits of reliability and teamwork and building skills and knowledge that may later be of value to them in employment (Kamerāde & Paine 2014; Paine et al., 2013; Spera et al., 2015). For those for whom employment may not be possible, the reward of contributing and being meaningfully engaged contributes to a greater sense of wellbeing (Jenkinson et al, 2013).

Many mechanisms for enabling volunteering can be structured and timetabled, but not all volunteering occurs like this. For people involved in Māori communities, volunteering may revolve around the demands of the marae, and in Pacific communities, it may be through weddings, funerals and other critical cultural events. The work of supporting the cultural imperatives of hui, wānanga and tangihanga cannot always be planned and scheduled. A critical need in these situations is for a highly skilled and capable volunteer workforce. Where people actively contribute in a regular way to the life of their marae, they should be recognised as making a valuable contribution that should be encouraged.

Our view is that volunteering should not replace the expectation that people who are in a position to work should look for, and take, suitable paid work. However, MSD should recognise volunteering as a valuable activity. Case managers should schedule appointments around people’s volunteering commitments. In seeking the best possible job match, they should seek to build on the skills, knowledge and interests a person has gained through volunteering or caring. Where people are not in a position to be in paid work, education or training, MSD should encourage and support voluntary work.

As recognition of, and support for, volunteering expands, care will be needed that a voluntary workforce does not displace paid employees and does not become a 'work for the dole' model. By concentrating on building the capacity and capability of community organisations, including marae, community trusts, incorporated societies, schools and environmental groups, the likelihood of worker displacement should be mitigated.

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