2.7 Social inclusion through volunteering
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Support to young volunteers
Based on the integration and diversity strategy of the European Commission, the Austrian Agency for Education and Internationalization (OeAD) has derived a national strategy for inclusion within the framework of the European Solidarity Corps ( Europäische Solidaritätskorps - ESK) in order to involve young people with fewer opportunities in volunteering projects. The program ' Inclusion in the ESC' ("Inklusion im ESK") therefore offers different formats for organizations and companies as well as additional financial support to organizations and volunteers to break down barriers and thus enable all young people to participate in volunteering:
- Within the framework of short-term volunteer projects (Kurzzeit-Freiwilligenprojekte), disadvantaged young people in particular have the opportunity to gain experience in an organisational environment during shorter assignments (between 2 weeks and 2 months) and to make an important contribution to the project. In the process, volunteers receive support services in the form of flat-rate travel allowances and pocket money to compensate for their expenses. Organisations can apply for financial support (lump sum) for project management and implementation (e.g. project preparation, transport costs, supervision, etc.) as well as for increased supervision and additional expenses for the inclusion of disadvantaged young people. Additional needs for the inclusion of disadvantaged young people (e.g. personal support, sign language interpreters, translation, etc.) can be applied for and fully funded in advance.
- The volunteer team format (Freiwilligenteams) allows organizations and companies to involve a group of 10-40 young people in a project. The goal is to have a diverse mix of participants, including those with fewer opportunities, to lower the initial threshold for young people and have a positive impact on project outcomes. This program provides volunteers with support funds (lump sums) for travel expenses (depending on distance) as well as an allowance in the form of pocket money. Organization can receive allowances (lump sums) for project management and implementation (preparation, accommodation, on-site transportation costs, supervision, etc.) as well as for increased supervision and additional expenses for the inclusion of disadvantaged youth. Other additional costs related to the involvement of disadvantaged youth can be requested and fully funded in advance.
- As a new format feature of the European Solidarity Corps, National volunteer projects (Nationale Projekte Österreich) offer young people with fewer opportunities to get involved in national project activities. This means that organizations, companies and communities where projects (short- and long-term assignments) are carried out by young people living in Austria are also based in the country. This format is intended to give all those the opportunity to engage in solidarity and gain initial experience for whom the hurdles of a stay abroad seem to high at the moment.
- The solidarity projects (Solidaritätsprojekte) format offers organizations working with young people and developing a local project, the opportunity to engage with disadvantaged youth in the local community. Solidarity projects in Austria are supported by lump sums for project management costs as well as allowances for services of a coach. In the spirit of social inclusion, exceptional costs (e.g. personal assistance, sign language interpreters, translation etc.) will be covered fully.
As a rule, all formats offer additional subsidies to cover expenses for the inclusion of disadvantaged young people in addition to basic funding. In the context of voluntary services, this corresponds to a lump sum of €8 per day of deployment. Instead or in addition, so called “extraordinary costs” can be applied for in all project formats, which can be covered up to 100% on the basis of the actual costs incurred. This is intended to promote the inclusion of young people with fewer opportunities for participation on an equal footing. Further information on the individual formats and support allowances can be found on in the program manual.
The participation in the Voluntary Social Year, the Social Service and Peace Service Abroad and the Voluntary Environmental Protection Year, which are regulated in the Volunteer Act 2012 (FreiwG 2012), entitles young volunteers to the following support benefits:
- For young volunteers participating in the Voluntary Social Year in Austria (Freiwilliges Sozialjahr im Inland), the family allowance is extended by one year as a legal minimum requirement until the volunteer has completed the age of 24. Young volunteers also receive pocket money (Taschengeld) amounting to at least 50% and at most 100% of the marginal earnings limit pursuant to § 5 para. 2 no. 2 of the General Social Insurance Act (ASVG) - however, the specific amount of the pocket money is determined by each institution at its own discretion within the framework of the legal provisions. In addition to cash, the individual institutions sometimes also provide benefits in kind (for which there is no legal obligation), e.g. lunch, accommodation, work clothes. Pocket money therefore varies within a certain range depending on the place of assignment. Social security cover and payment of contributions (health, accident and pension insurance) are guaranteed. In case of illness, there are benefits in kind from the health insurance. Participants are not entitled to unemployment insurance, but to an extension of the framework period through the voluntary social year.
- For volunteers participating in the Social Service Abroad (Sozialdienst im Ausland), the Peace Service Abroad (Friedensdienst im Ausland) and the Memorial Service Abroad (Gedenkdienst im Ausland), the family allowance is also paid until the volunteer has completed 24 years of age. In addition, pocket money is granted in the amount of at least 10% and at most 100% of the marginal earnings limit pursuant to § 5 para. 2 no. 2 of the General Social Security Act. However, there is no legal obligation to provide benefits in kind such as accommodation, meals and work clothes, as these are handled differently by the placement agencies. Social insurance cover and payment of contributions (health, accident and pension insurance) are provided. In case of illness, volunteers receive benefits in kind from the health insurance. Although there is no unemployment insurance for volunteers, an extension of the framework period is possible through the Voluntary Social Year.
- Participants in the Voluntary Environmental Protection Year (Freiwilliges Umweltschutzjahr, FUJ) receive pocket money of 240 euros per month since the FUJ year 2019/20. Meals in the amount of at least two meals per day (direct meals on site at the assignment location or financial subsidies through meal vouchers or food) are also covered (Spreitzer 2019:42). The assignment location can also provide accommodation for the duration of the FUJ or an additional monthly support of €95. However, both measures are voluntary additional benefits to which there is no legal entitlement (ibid.).
Furthermore, the costs for an Austrian Federal Railway advantage card (ÖBB Vorteilscard) are reimbursed to the participants by the assignment location. If travel costs are incurred from the place of residence to the place of assignment, these are also covered by the assignment location (by agreement, e.g. youth network card for the respective province until the participant reaches the age of 24, ÖBB Vorteilscard, or kilometre allowance, etc.). Travel costs to and from the course modules within Austria are reimbursed by the sponsoring organisation (Spreitzer 2019:42). Insurance premiums are paid for accident, health and pension insurance as well as for liability insurance. This liability insurance covers damage to persons and objects that do not belong to the assignment site (e.g. visitors, event participants and their property, etc.); electronic devices are excluded. For internal damages (e.g. damages to the vehicles and other objects of the operation site), the operation site itself has to pay (ibid.).
In Austria, there is no national policy at the highest level to strengthen and develop social cohesion and integration in areas where volunteering takes place. However, initiatives, programmes and platforms that promote community building at international, national, regional and municipal level are partly funded by the state.
As an agency of the federal government, the OeAD has coordinated the Austrian EuroPeers (EuroPeers Österreich) network since 2020. The community of young people who have participated in the EU programmes 'European Solidarity Corps' (ESK) or 'Erasmus+Youth' (Erasmus+Jugend) at home and abroad passes on their experiences to other young people. By participating in national and international EuroPeers exchange meetings, the network contributes to the shaping of a solidary and democratic Europe. Different target groups are addressed. Disadvantaged young people are also to be reached and involved directly and immediately through the peer-to-peer approach.
The European Solidarity Corps mobility programme offers young people in Europe a wide range of "solidarity and community-building" activities. In addition to individual volunteer placements at home and abroad (in EU Member States), the ESC also offers support for local group activities. So-called 'solidarity projects' (Solidaritätsprojekte) enable a group of people between the ages 18 and 30 to implement a project idea over a period of two to twelve months that has a positive impact on the young people's immediate region or place of residence. The project thus benefits other people and promotes a sense of community. This sense of community is also present at European level, as the young participants are part of a larger network - the European Solidarity Network EuSN. By sharing their experiences with other young people, the young volunteers stay connected to this network.
In the individual provinces of Austria, there are numerous institutions and platforms for networking volunteer organisations and volunteers. Not only do they offer comprehensive information on volunteering, but they also contribute to exchange, networking and community building. The province of Upper Austria, for example, offers a platform for networking in the non-profit sector with the 'Volunteering Exchange' (Börse Ehrenamt). Such exchange and networking platforms also exist in other federal provinces.
In an effort to work together to improve the voluntary sector and to promote the networking of existing structures of volunteer centres, agencies and associations, the volunteer centres in the federal provinces have also joined forces to form a community of interest (Interessensgemeinschaft Freiwilligenzentren Österreich - IGFÖ). As one of about 60 other European volunteer organisations, the IGFÖ is also part of the European network of volunteer centres CEV.
In other respects, digital networks are also increasingly creating new opportunities to network and promote social inclusion. This can happen at the local level and in connection with real support services and meetings, but also with international communities.
Tackling societal challenges
Within the framework of the Voluntary Social Year and the Voluntary Environmental Protection Year, as enshrined in the Austrian Volunteer Act 2012 (FreiwG 2012), voluntary service of young people takes place as a form of social engagement serving the common good, namely in the fields of social welfare and assistance for the disabled, assistance for the elderly, assistance for refugees and displaced persons, assistance for the homeless, emergency services, etc. in the case of the Voluntary Social Year; and in the fields of environmental protection, sustainable development and organic farming with public welfare-oriented objectives such as cultural and landscape protection, preservation of biodiversity, etc. in the case of the Voluntary Environmental Protection Year. These programmes enable young volunteers to deal with societal challenges, either in Austria or abroad.
Volunteering projects under the "European Solidarity Corps" (ESK), managed by the Austrian National Agency for Education and Internationalisation (OeAD), enable young people between 18 and 30 years of age to do voluntary service in a non-profit organisation in Europe or a neighbouring region of the EU, including in the fields of environment, social affairs, refugee work and work with people with disabilities. In addition, the former EU Aid Volunteers initiative, now called the European Voluntary Humanitarian Aid Corps and part of the ESC programme, enables young people aged 18 to 35 to volunteer in third countries with ongoing humanitarian aid operations. This action offers young people the opportunity to contribute to society through short or long-term volunteering to improve the living conditions of people in need and thus help solve societal challenges (see European Solidarity Corps Guide 2023:59).