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There are two aspects of volunteering which we tend to accept. Firstly in economic terms because there is no money value attached, since the word itself implies the word ‘free’, and secondly the outcomes of the efforts of volunteers often can’t be valued and therefore are often just accepted.
This problem particularly affects older people. Because we are not seen to be producing an income we are not regarded as valued members of the community and are therefore regarded as bludgers on the economy by some. I suspect that many who feel this way are not aware of having this attitude, much as people who are racist are often not aware of it. As an older person I am aware that it exists, particularly when out shopping. So many younger people expect me to move out of their way, not necessarily because they feel that as an older person, and therefore unlikely to be contributing to the economy, but I don’t count because they see no reason to value me. They forget that one day they will be old themselves and therefore subject to this behaviour!
This attitude extends to most volunteers of any age group. Unless their work is specifically brought to our attention, such as through wearing a special uniform as in some hospitals, we may not be aware that it is being done out of the goodness of people’s hearts.
What we forget is that a monetary value could be put on what is done in many cases but because it is often just accepted, and is nothing new, people don’t think of it. A group I belong to has many volunteers but doesn’t normally put a monetary value on what we do. As it has now applied to be a registered charity I suggested we would attract more donations if we did include it in our brochure and would then be able to expand our work. For a reason like this I suspect many of us would be willing to count up our hours. For other voluntary work, such as babysitting, which is a frequent unpaid occupation for many older people, I suspect many would feel that this is too precious to be given a monitory value and to do so would devalue it.
The other side of the coin is that it means that the rest of the citizens never have a figure in terms of, in many cases, billions of dollars contributed to the economy by these people, including those they push out of the way in shopping centres.
If we added up in monetary terms the value of all the voluntary work done even in just one country I suspect we would change the attitude of its citizens to each other in a very positive way. We shouldn’t need to push those who are more frail out of the way and people who do this would feel much better about themselves if they didn’t.