The measures taken as a result of the Covid-19 epidemic in Belgium have had a negative effect on the volunteer sector, according to figures from the sector’s platform PFV.
Since March, 33% of associations have seen the numbers of volunteers dwindle by at least half, according to a survey carried out by PFV with the backing of the King Baudouin Foundation.
This is despite the fact that the health situation has seen more people laid off work temporarily, more attention paid to the effects on the disadvantaged – the growth for example in the use of food banks – and a concentration on the health sector in general.
The volunteer sector is an important part of Belgian society, with around one million volunteers active at any one time. On average, each of those people contributes 190 hours a year, or four hours a week, to their volunteer activities.
The volunteer population is divided roughly equally between men and women, and the largest age group is those between 30 and 49 years, the study shows.
In the period since March, the social aid sector, covering food banks, personal aid, telephone help lines, have lost fewer volunteers than other sectors, and smaller groups have done better than larger groups.
“For the larger groups, it is sometimes difficult to maintain contact with volunteers, especially with those who are not comfortable with digital tools and who cannot answer e-mails or attend a videoconference,” explained Emmeline Orban, secretary general of the PFV.
In particular, associations with a high proportion of people over 60 have suffered more, as those volunteers, considered vulnerable, go into more or less rigid self-isolation. Hospitals, meanwhile, have in some cases furloughed their volunteers for the time being, as they are considered more of a risk than permanent staff.
But more than the lack of volunteers, the main problem is a fall in the number of calls for the services of volunteers, Orban said.
“There is a strong will among people to get involved during this period, but unfortunately some have not been able to, since few associations have been able to continue their activities. There is a large supply, but little demand.”