Mental health & funding issues among key barriers to young people volunteering

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Work, social and family commitments, coupled with one’s mental health and reduced opportunities in some areas due to lower youth welfare spending, prevent many young people from volunteering, a report found.

volunteer trips – A review commissioned by DCMS from the Institute for Community Studies was released last week. Through a study of 650 11-30 year olds in the UK, it examines how young people perceive and experience the UK’s current volunteering offer and how it could be transformed to increase and sustain their participation.

Lack of support

It found that young people may lack the support they need to volunteer depending on where they live, with the average net spend on youth services in urban areas reportedly being £62 per capita compared to £47 per capita in rural areas. This “zip code lottery” results in volunteering opportunities being offered inconsistently across regions, educational institutions and workplaces.


The results also suggest that the citizenship curriculum lacks impact. Out of 125 young people’s reflections on what prompted their involvement in volunteering, only one mentioned citizenship education.

Triple personal burden

Another key concern is the triple burden young people face in balancing volunteering with paid work, social and family responsibilities, and their own mental health. Specifically, the report identifies mental health as an emerging barrier to sustained engagement and the most prevalent factor for 16-18 year olds and 21-24 year olds. Global and national events affect the self-confidence and emotional security of young people, particularly in the 18+ age group. Burnout is also an issue for young people – especially when voluntary work is closely linked to questions of their own identity and the will to make a difference.


Findings suggest that there is a need for a more flexible approach, with more emphasis on young people’s ownership in shaping their own volunteering journeys, and an integrated approach that increases the impact of young people’s volunteering experience by linking programs and initiatives together and the transitions are considered between them.

Emily Morrison, director of the Institute for Community Studies, commented:

“The hybrid ways in which young people engage in volunteering, their motivation to get involved and the ‘triple burden’ barriers they face have changed significantly over the years. We need to develop policies and support frameworks that recognize and respond to this if we are to build a sustainable volunteer base for the future – and if we are to maximize the benefits of volunteering for young people as individuals, for their local communities and for society at large senses.”

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