Government involvement in volunteering comes under fire

One of the UK’s biggest and longest-established volunteering companies has attacked government plans to subsidise young people planning a gap year volunteering abroad.

The International Citizens Service programme is currently coming to the end of a pilot phase involving some 500 young people working in over 20 countries. Places are means-tested and are followed by work on community action projects in the UK. Next year, the programme is set to subsidise up to 7,000 18 to 25-year-olds.

But Peter Slowe, managing director of Projects Abroad, says the government is interfering in a healthy industry comprised mainly of small businesses.

"The government says it is committed to stimulating growth among small businesses so as to generate jobs and then uses public funds to compete with those businesses. It means that, in our case, Projects Abroad will pay tax so that business can be taken away from us by the government."

Dr Slowe, who is a former economic advisor to Tony Blair, founded Projects Abroad in 1992. The company has sent more than 41,000 volunteers to nearly 30 countries.

"As far as I can see", he said, "what the government is planning to do through the ICS is directly opposed to its own principles of support for small and medium-sized business."

Have you taken part in either the National or International Citizens Service? Do you agree with Peter Slowe's comments? Should the government subsidise volunteering?