Volunteering despite COVID: Victoria’s need for urgent financial support to ensure safe volunteering
In our 2022/23 State Budget Submission, Volunteering Victoria recommends the State Government create a Volunteer COVID-19 recovery fund of $3 million over the next 12 months as an urgent priority for volunteers to continue fulfilling their vital role in communities throughout Victoria. We are advocating for a flexible funding program that will allow organisations to respond quickly to unpredictable environments and meet the growing need for their services.
The Omicron wave is the latest example of how promptly the landscape can change. In response to the devastation it is currently causing, we call on the State Government to start meeting this investment need through the provision of free rapid antigen tests to every volunteer/organisation involved in the delivery of essential services.
The current Omicron surge and testing challenges only reinforce the pressing need for concrete actions supporting volunteers and their organisations. The safety of all involved is paramount to building trust through and following this latest wave.
Volunteering Victoria, through consultation with its members, believes it is abundantly clear that the Victorian Government must urgently act to ensure that VIOs and Community Sector organisations can count on solid volunteering participation to meet the increased demand on their services.
The latest changes in the testing regime unfortunately means that organisations and volunteers are under increased pressure. While Volunteering Victoria welcomes the allocation of free rapid antigen tests to concession cardholders, this policy unfortunately leaves out VIOs, Community Sector organisations and volunteers. Organisations do not have the means to provide these tests to volunteers and volunteers cannot be expected to cover such costs. The provision of guidance solely in English and the absence of pictorials as part of the test kits also puts numerous volunteers at a greater disadvantage.
A volunteering sector at risk and the clear case for financial support
COVID has accelerated volunteering disengagement by 64.1%. Even before the pandemic, the rate of formal volunteering had been steadily and worryingly declining, decreasing from 36.2% in 2010 to 28.8% in 2019. The assumption that volunteering will organically return to a sustainable level in the coming months without deliberate support threatens the viability of the whole sector. Should the current reduction in the rate of volunteering continue in Victoria, numerous government and community services and programs will be detrimentally impacted, if not impossible to maintain.
In December 2021, the Australian Council of Social Services released an Australian Community Sector Survey offering a snapshot of the demand during the year. While VIOs and Community Service organisations continued to play a critical role by helping people get through the pandemic, the findings reveal stark realities and clear warning signs:
- Only 6% of respondents said that their services always managed to meet the demand in 2021, compared to 19% in 2020.
- 73% of respondents said poverty and disadvantage has increased among the groups they support.
- 81% of respondents further stressed the growing complexity of needs.
- 80% of respondents said that the level of demand for their services had increased in 2021.
Add to these realities the Omicron surge which now puts every Victorian at increased risk of contracting the virus and threatens to force thousands of volunteers into isolation. That is, if they choose to return to volunteering roles at all in such a challenging context.
Volunteering Victoria urges the Victorian Government to provide a $3 million Volunteer COVID-19 Recovery fund, in the form of rapid response grants, over the next 12 months to support Victorian VIOs and volunteers to:
- Cover the cost associated with the provision of free rapid antigen tests.
- Implement additional policies and procedures, notably COVID-19 Safe plans and QR Codes.
- Provide legal and OHS support in returning to safe operations and risk management.
- Manage vaccine policies, their non-vaccinated workforce and visitors.
- Develop clear messaging on the safe return of volunteers.
- Implement specific COVID-19 Safe re-engagement activities for volunteers.
- Develop engagement and promotion measures to encourage, support and increase participation in volunteering.
- Develop and provide COVID-19 Safe training to returning volunteers.
- Develop and implement COVID-19-related volunteering policy and procedures.
- Recruit contract/temporary staff to support the return of volunteers and adherence to COVID-19 Safe protocols.
The viability of volunteering programs and activities of numerous VIOs is currently at stake without this financial support.