Full-Time Social Action Review

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport commissioned an independent review of Full-Time Social Action  for young people (aged 16 – 25). Chaired by Steve Holliday with the support of Saeed Atcha, Andy Haldane, Charlotte Hill, Sue Maguire and Veronica Wadley. You can download the full report here.

Headline conclusions:

  • Committed forms of social action over an extended period have been shown to play a critical role in developing a young person’s life chances, improving job prospects and wellbeing. They can add value to government supported programmes such as the NCS, International Citizen Service and commitments to the #iwill campaign. There is an enhanced role for government to support the private sector, statutory services, and civil society in embedding social action into the lives of all young people in the United Kingdom.
  •  FTSA plays a central role in achieving wider government priorities; in particular, achieving greater social mobility and social inclusion for young people. Cross- departmental work in this area is key, and we would like your support in further driving this by bringing together a Ministerial group to bring together the interests of all government departments in optimising the value of youth social action.
  •  Young people from the poorest backgrounds tend to be the least likely to access structured social action opportunities, even though they may benefit significantly from participating. The increased level of time and potential cost required for FTSA is a significant barrier for this group, as well as knowledge about and access to local opportunities. There is some evidence of FTSA engaging disadvantaged groups, but more action needs to be taken to involve young people in the design and delivery of programmes.
  • The evidence base relating to FTSA is not strong enough at present to recommend legislative change to widen access, given competing government priorities for Parliamentary time. The current legal status for young people taking part in FTSA is not ideal and there is more that government could do without legislative change to unlock the role of the private sector, statutory services and civil society in order to embed FTSA into life in the UK, and ensure that the least advantaged young people are able to take part.


The review found that young people are often facing multiple barriers to participate in FTSA programmes, while providers are struggling to deliver them. The common difficulties reported by providers are; the funding required to provide young people with the right training and support to thrive in social action programmes, and frustrations navigating the current legal framework. For young people, awareness and access are the initial obstacles they face, as signposting and infrastructural support is not currently strong enough. These barriers accumulate for young people when long hours of voluntary engagement are required from them and when they incur travel and subsistence costs. Therefore, FTSA programmes as defined in the Terms of Reference do not appear to currently accommodate the needs of most young people, particularly those from poor socioeconomic backgrounds.


  1. Establish a Ministerial Group: To bring together the interests of all government Departments in optimising the value of FTSA, led by your department.
  2. Work with the Department for Work and Pensions: To ensure that social action is accessible to all, we recommend that the Department for Work and Pensions supports Job Coaches, to proactively inform young people who are Universal Credit claimants of their right to reduce their job-seeking hours up to 50 percent to participate in voluntary activities. We also favour extending this right to all benefit claimants and ask that the crucial role of volunteering is better recognised by this department. The Department for Work and Pensions should explore this and report back on implementation plans within 12 months.
  3. Work with the Department for Education: To fully understand the crucial role of FTSA in engaging those young people furthest away from the labour market, this department.We also recommend the DfE consider piloting FTSA as part of the transition year initiative as proposed in the Sainsbury’s Report. Such a pilot would significantly expand the evidence base for youth FTSA in a UK context and explore the strong links with volunteering and paths into employment and encourage charities to provide better information, advice, guidance and support to young people during their social action journey.
  4. Reinforce best practice via the Civil Society Strategy: We recommend the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) should lead an activity with NNVIA, Volunteering Matters, the Association of Volunteer Managers and V-Inspired to develop non-mandatory guidelines specific to 16-25 year olds with support and encouragement from government. This could include of ‘out-of-pocket’ expenses, setting realistic targets, good recruitment and safeguarding processes and reiterating that completion of social action programmes does not guarantee employment. Furthermore, they should develop a plan that encourages charities to operate transparently with young people, should investigate the value of full-time social action as a route to work-readiness and social mobility and in particular, for those young people who face social or economic disadvantage, as part of its work in the social mobility opportunity areas and to reduce the number of 16-24 year olds who are NEET.
  5. The Careers and Enterprise Company: To include FTSA as part of their toolkit of opportunities when Enterprise Advisors are working with young people. They should also work with the Chartered Institute of Personal Development (CIPD) to formulate ways in which the skills young people develop through social action are more widely acknowledged and evidenced, helping businesses to assess young people’s capabilities beyond their academic attainment and employment history.
  6. Our asks of the private sector: Business in the Community should coordinate businesses commitment and support to youth projects in their community and promote good practice e.g. bus companies providing free transport to young people taking part in volunteering, or local businesses providing food and training to participants. Employers should also consider changing their recruitment practices to recognise the skills young people have developed through social action and supported by the CIPD to draw up guidelines.
  7. National Citizen Service: NCS should explore the option to act as a broker and quality assurance body for FTSA opportunities ensuring that young people are recognised and well supported to take part in high impact social action. NCS can help further by signposting opportunities to their graduate.
  8. Develop an improved evidence base: As FTSA programmes are still in their infancy in the UK, the evidence does not yet demonstrate a strong argument to justify expansion. More research and wider evidence are needed on their impact. We believe this can be derived from evaluating the performance of current practice and innovation across the UK. Future research should be commissioned and managed by DCMS. The obvious links between FTSA and getting young people into work should be considered by The Big Lottery when distributing dormant asset funding. The impact FTSA could have in opportunity areas, to provide local solutions to community issues, needs to be fully understood and is an excellent opportunity to meet government objectives.

In summary, connecting FTSA into the work of The Careers & Enterprise Company, National Citizen Service, the Department for Education’s Opportunity Areas, the Department of Work and Pensions and wider government investment, will ensure it is accessible to all young people.

For further information: Contact us by phone on 01536 680916 or email us at info@youthemployment.org.uk

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