The Government of Isabel Díaz Ayuso has announced the creation of the first Young Volunteer Corps in the region, made up of adolescents and young people who will work in soup kitchens and accompany people with disabilities and the elderly, in their private homes or in residences. The idea sounds good, but appearances are deceiving, according to several associations with social purposes consulted by this newspaper that have cried foul, pointing to the “illegality” of the measure.
These entities criticize that administrations cannot resort to free work to fulfill their obligations and point out that a state and regional law prohibit it. They remember that in 2012 the team of the mayor of Madrid, Ana Botella, had to back down from their idea of looking for volunteers for public libraries in the midst of the great economic recession.
The Spanish Volunteer Platform, which promoted the state Volunteer Law of 2015, is blunt: “It is illegal and this is not an opinion,” says its president, Luciano Poyato. “Administrations can encourage people to join voluntary associations, but not create their own volunteer bodies.”
The Coordinator of the Third Sector in the Community of Madrid, which brings together 214 small and medium-sized social entities, is also strongly opposed to this new body. “The elderly need the assistance of professionals and it cannot be that they seek to save money by recruiting volunteers,” says its technical secretary, Rafael Escudero. “The concept of charity in social services is over. This is the same thing that Botella wanted, but now they want to save money on social workers or occupational therapists in residences.”
The Minister of Social Affairs, Ana Dávila, made the announcement of the new Volunteer Corps on Friday during a meeting with journalists, advancing information embargoed until this Monday. Ella Dávila explained that the volunteers, between 14 and 30 years old, could “spread joy” to the elderly or people with disabilities and that the new body was guided by the “philosophy of generational exchange.”
Dávila said that these adolescents and young people would cooperate in projects such as a thousand calls a day, which would be launched progressively. The volunteers would be coordinated by Community workers who are dedicated to managing the Youth Card, a card that offers discounts on transportation, leisure and culture. Participants would access sports and cultural activities together with older people or people with disabilities.
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This work of accompaniment to the elderly has been carried out for years by associations and the Community of Madrid itself launched a Regional Network against Unwanted Loneliness which coordinates these entities with 24 town councils and associations. That is timely work for critics of the Madrid project. They argue that volunteers should participate in bodies external to administrations and work punctually as a complement to the public sector.
The state volunteer law It expressly says that administrations can encourage, raise awareness, promote, accompany or promote voluntary work, but they cannot create this type of organizations. “The performance of volunteer activities may not replace public administrations in the development of functions or in the provision of public services to which they are obliged by law,” this rule states.
And the autonomous law of Volunteeringalso from 2015, contains a similar prohibition: “Volunteers and volunteer organizations will not carry out activities that are carried out by personnel at the service of public administrations, they will not be considered personnel at the service of public administrations, nor will they assume the exercise of public functions or obligations of the Administration.”
Escudero, from the Third Sector Coordinator, remembers that during the preparation of the autonomous norm there was controversy over the inclusion of that clause because the PP was opposed. “They wanted to leave open the possibility of creating volunteer bodies,” he recalls.
The Spanish Volunteering Platform states that a known exception to these laws is the work of civil protection volunteers in the field of emergencies. That function It is regulated by its own state law.
A region at the bottom of social spending
Critics of the Volunteer Corps distrust the intentions of the Community of Madrid because it is an autonomy famous for its low investment in the most vulnerable sector. Year after year, the region has appeared in the bottom group of the ranking of per capita investment in social services, prepared by the Association of Directors and Managers of Social Services of Spain. In 2022, It was the penultimate with 348 euros per inhabitant, only above Murcia and well below the first, País Vasco, with 1,007 euros.
The president of this association, José Manuel Ramírez, warns that Madrid must aspire to improve its services with more public money. “No one can be against the good will of the people who want to help, but it would be a disgrace for the Community to replace the right to quality care in residences in this way.”
The controversy over the use of volunteers in the administration reached its peak in 2012, when the then mayor of the capital, Botella, proposed covering the needs of municipal facilities with volunteers due to the budgetary constraints suffered by the City Council. After receiving a barrage of criticism, the councilor backed down.
Despite that step backwards, the City Council has maintained for years the body of Volunteers for Madrid, which is also questioned by the associations. The Spanish Volunteering Platform appreciates that the team of the current mayor, José Luis Martínez Almeida, puts these people at the service of the associations, but criticizes that he uses them directly to organize his own events such as the Three Wise Men parade or for the recount homeless annual.
In 2020, the City Council gave them a new function: to accompany the elderly when going to the doctor, shopping, taking a walk or going to the movies. It is a program known as Madrid accompanies you which seems to have inspired the Community of Madrid to create the new Young Volunteer Corps.
The director of the Spanish Volunteering Platform, Mar Amate, adds that a good example that the Madrid administrations should follow is that of the European youth volunteering, a European Commission program that encourages young people to participate in associations, which has allowed many to go abroad as aid workers.
“What they do is connect them with other social entities, but they do not recruit them to do their own tasks.” [de la Administración]”says Amate. “But it seems to me that this Young Volunteer Corps twists the concept of volunteering and ignores the entities that work in these areas with their own volunteer staff.”
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