There are some people who argue that Britain is broken, but I believe the opposite is true.
Ours is a country being lifted up every day by the people who love it – and this week, Britain’s 25th National Volunteer Week, is a celebration of the millions of people up and down the country who give their time and energy to make a difference to their communities and to the lives of others.
Whether they are helping out in homes for the elderly or tutoring young pupils in schools, campaigning on local issues or fundraising for global ones, each and every volunteer is a testament to the fact that Britain is a country filled with people sharing their talents so that others can realise theirs.
Last week I met young volunteers from the Scouts, Kids Company and the Hackney Youth Parliament along with members of the National Union of Students, who told me about the campaigns they’ve been running to get young people more actively engaged in their communities.
As I spoke to these young people, the thing that struck me most was that they were inspirational but not unusual. Already, nearly half the population volunteers at least once a month - and in these difficult times I am proud that, rather than looking inwards and only looking after themselves, people are showing in ever greater numbers that we achieve more together than we do alone.
Youthnet, the home of Britain’s volunteering website do-it.org.uk, has recorded a rise of more than 100% in the number of people applying for volunteering opportunities, and charities like Crisis and the Cranfield Trust are seeing a big surge in interest from potential volunteers.
All of these people are changing the world the only way it ever really changes – one life at a time. And I am determined to support them, which is why we have more than doubled spending on the third sector since 1997 to £11 billion a year, why we have invested in expanding opportunities and support for volunteers across the country, why we launched the v national youth volunteering body back in 2006 and why we are now starting to help all schools provide volunteering opportunities for their pupils so that serving the community becomes a normal part of growing up in Britain.
I am committed to ensuring that the third sector is a genuine partner to government rather than being the last resort if government retreats and leaves people alone to sink or swim. There are things that only the voluntary sector and only volunteers can do – but that doesn’t mean government can just pass by on the other side.
The way we will come through this global recession will depend on the efforts of people in communities the length and breadth of Britain – charities and voluntary organisations, councils, businesses, unions, faith groups and social enterprises all working together with government to help people through these times of challenge and change.
We are going to need the idealism, the energy and the expertise of Britain’s volunteers as we face the challenges ahead – and I hope that National Volunteer Week will inspire many more people to play their part in building Britain’s future.