DaneAge is the peak organisation for older citizens in Denmark. With 584,000 members (more than 10 per cent of the population of 5.5 million) DaneAge is active in many aspects of public policy. Earlier this year it hosted a conference on the role of volunteers in the welfare state, Vel Fair? More than 300 participants considered the challenges of integrating the volunteer sector with the role of the state to get the best of both worlds.
The then opposition leader, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, promised to establish a Minister for Volunteerism should her party, the Social democrats, win government. In a truth is stranger than fiction moment, the ruling Liberal Party gained a seat but lost the election as the combined votes for opposition parties meant the social democrats were able to form a coalition government. In September Thorning-Schmidt became Denmark’s first female Prime Minister. And now, if she keeps her word, will be the first to create a Minister for Volunteerism.
Does Australia need its own Minister for Volunteerism? In recent times we seem to have ministers for everything, so is this just one more piece of window dressing?
Many other interesting questions were raised by Vel Fair?
What are fair expectations of volunteers? Should there be clearer guidelines as to what they can do – and what they should not? Is there a smarter way to coordinate volunteering inputs? What about conditions for volunteers? Apart from being unpaid, are they often treated as second-class citizens?
For many years economists have grappled with the challenge of including volunteer contributions in the national accounts. Australians are often told of the ‘burden’ of paying pensions to more and more older men and women. Rarely does anybody note the fact that these men and women have contributed a lifetime of taxes to earn their right to such pension income. Just as rarely do we consider the unpaid hours many older adults continue to give to make our society work. Agreeing upon a way of recognising the fiscal contribution of older adults in our national accounts might be the first step towards a more realistic understanding of the value of older volunteers.