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Volunteering Queensland commends the Australian Seniors Insurance Agency (ASIA) on the release of their Modern Australian Communities report, the ninth instalment of their Australian Seniors Series, for the valuable insights the study provides on the state of volunteering.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Voluntary Work Survey in 2010, Australian seniors aged 45-54 (43.7%) and 55-64 (42.5%) are the most likely to volunteer. The ASIA study found that one in two seniors volunteer in their local community at an average of 412 hours a year, adding up to a staggering annual total of more than 1.4 billion hours volunteered. Based on minimum wage, this equates to a mammoth $46.5 billion in donated time each year.
Given the significance of their social and economic contribution to our state and nation, the views of Australia’s seniors need to be listened to and supported. They are a hugely influential sector of our society and their advocacy and concern for the future of volunteering is heartening to see. The seniors surveyed showed great understanding of the contemporary challenges and opportunities for volunteering, with their views aligning with many of Volunteering Queensland’s research findings.
The senior respondents raised concern that their generation tends to volunteer less than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations, with nearly a third of seniors saying they’re less likely to volunteer in ten years’ time. Seniors noted their need to be supported to continue to volunteer through increased government contribution to strengthen volunteering infrastructure and support services. Older volunteers are willing to give back but recognise that support is needed to address barriers of time (48.3%), health (34%), and out-of-pocket expenses (29.1%).
This is a critical issue that the government and volunteering sector need to work on together. Urgent solutions need to be co-designed and implemented to lower barriers to volunteer participation by seniors and to offer innovative and flexible new ways of volunteering that will keep this invaluable workforce engaged and contributing.
The seniors showed appreciation of the importance of adequate volunteering infrastructure and volunteering support services. Comments called for increased government support for infrastructure to facilitate volunteering work (53.2%) and awareness campaigns to promote participation in volunteering (48%). This need for government commitment to and investment in volunteering development aligns closely with the advocacy work Volunteering Australia and the State and Territory Volunteering Peak Bodies have been doing during this past year, which calls for continued volunteering support services funding and a recognition of the value and place of volunteering support services to the economic and social well-being of communities and our nation.
Seniors also recognise that while the act of volunteering is free the coordination and management of effective, safe volunteering requires ongoing and adequate funding from government to maximise its potential and to continue to provide significant return on investment (more than $4.50 for every dollar invested).
The seniors commented on how the benefits of their participation are multi-faceted – benefiting them personally, their communities, their state and the nation. At a personal level, research shows that volunteering contributes positively to the physical, emotional and social health and well-being of volunteers by providing a meaningful purpose, a sense of belonging, enhanced social inclusion, and a valuable vehicle to share and continue to develop their skills, knowledge and interests. The study found that nearly all seniors say volunteering keeps the mind working (96.9%), improves self-worth (96.7%), helps avoid loneliness (93%), and improves mental health (92.5%). More broadly, volunteering provides a huge, irreplaceable non-paid workforce that provides critical and additional services across myriad areas that government and the community simply cannot afford to pay for or deliver without raising taxes.
While the research and findings of this study were focussed on older Australians – it actually provides a snapshot of the whole spectrum of volunteering and the challenges the sector and volunteers of all ages face.
Volunteering is a national issue and a critical contributor to the economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being of Australia. The voice of Australian seniors along with that of all volunteers needs to be heard, respected and supported by government and the broader community to ensure the benefits of the vital services they provide are maximised and valued.
Produced by Australian Seniors Insurance Agency