Older Volunteers

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:03 pm on 8th December 2004.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 5:03 pm, 8th December 2004

The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-2033, in the name of Sarah Boyack, on "Retire into Action: a study of the benefits of volunteering to older people", which is a Community Service Volunteers Scotland report on older volunteers. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the publication of Retire into Action, the Community Service Volunteers' research into the benefits of volunteering by older people; celebrates the contribution made by older citizens in supporting local community organisations and individuals in Scotland; notes the personal benefits to be gained by volunteers such as improved health and confidence, as well as great social benefits; believes that Scotland's ageing population provides great opportunities as well as challenges; notes the work done by older citizens in Edinburgh Central in supporting homeless people and those with debt problems, assisting in schools and running community centres and the many community groups that would struggle to exist without the generous time, expertise and commitment given by so many older people, and, in particular, notes the contribution of the Parliament's neighbours in the Old Town where organisations such as the Committee of the St Anne's Community Centre and the committees of the Dumbiedykes Neighbourhood Association and the Writers Group have worked over many years to support people and enrich their lives.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour 5:11 pm, 8th December 2004

I am delighted to have been given the chance by colleagues to put the motion in front of members and to have the opportunity to debate such an exciting report. The whole tenor of the Community Service Volunteers Scotland report, "Retire into Action", is worthy of debate. Members have the opportunity to discuss the report's conclusions and to acknowledge the superb local work that is done on behalf of our constituents.

Later, I will refer to a number of groups in whose work around the Holyrood area members might be interested. However, I want to say at the start that the debate should not be touchy-feely or vague. Volunteering can sound like a warm and lovely idea and we might think that we should all just say that it is a great idea that we should support. However, difficult political issues are buried in the subject and I want to pick up on one or two of those in my brief few minutes. First, there is the demographic time bomb. Then I want to talk about resources and community capacity, and volunteers' rewards.

When we talk about the demographic time bomb, it is usually explained that a big problem is coming: that we are going to have more older people in society. However, the debate should turn that attitude on its head. We should consider the fact that there will be a wealth of talent and experience in our older community. The vast majority of people in that community do not think of themselves as older. That the CSV report talks about the over-50s is interesting. It does not talk about people automatically being retired, but about viewing people as a resource.

The rewards for people who are over 50 in getting involved as volunteers was one issue that emerged powerfully from the CSV's research. There is the sense of purpose and self-respect that comes from making a socially useful contribution that is valued by the people with whom they work. There is the opportunity for self-development. Many people stay in the same job for years and retirement offers them a superb opportunity to do different things and to use skills and talents in a different way in shaping themselves, and possibly to diversify into totally different activities. A person might have been a bank manager and might end up driving a truck to take around food for the Crisis FareShare project. There are many opportunities out there.

People's sense of achievement and the strong personal satisfaction and personal motivation that come from deciding how they want to contribute comes through in the report, and I certainly get that sense from talking to people. We are not talking about an employment situation in which a person signs a contract and has a duty to do things. It is about personal choice. For many people, volunteering gives a structure to life that is not like the treadmill of work. It is not a 9-to-5 job; it is not shift work of 12 hours repeated several times a week; it is about choosing when and how they want to contribute.

There are also many social benefits for people who get involved in volunteering or campaigning work in the community. The research shows the benefits to people's health of the motivational experience and the confidence that comes through such work, highlighting its positive impact on the volunteers, never mind the impact on the huge number of people whom they help by volunteering. We might also consider the economic benefits of volunteering. The CSV's statistics suggest that more than £1 billion goes into the Scottish economy every year through the work that volunteers do. We should be celebrating the work of older volunteers, not regarding an ageing population as a big problem that is coming down the tracks. Society as a whole should seize it as a big opportunity.

I have mentioned the different ways in which people can contribute to society, through voluntary organisations, churches and local groups that would not be able to operate without the free contribution that is made by volunteers. I know that eradicating homelessness is part of the task of the Minister for Communities—I said that this would get slightly political—but in my constituency we have a number of groups that support homeless people. Many people volunteer to help the Cyrenians, the Ark project and the Salvation Army to ensure that people receive support. I have mentioned the fact that we have volunteers who drive vans; we also have people who serve in cafes and other people who support those groups. There is the work of Sister Aelred and the nuns who support people by giving them food. There is also the work that is done to resolve debt problems in my community by the citizens advice bureau at Gorgie-Dalry, and there is the work that is done to support our local schools.

I have here a wonderful quote from a volunteer that was part of the research that was done by CSV. The person says:

"It gives me a buzz to read to the kids. I'm giving something back the kids appreciate and learn—I can give some specialist input."

There is a real sense of achievement and of personal contribution there.

The wider community learning agenda is a huge issue for all members. There are projects for older people—the trendy name would be silver surfers—that are about giving people access to the internet and computers. That is something that most of us are beginning to take for granted, even if we are not sure about how we do it. Older volunteers themselves are helping people to get access to the internet, and there is a huge personal liberation for the people who are supported in that way.

There are a number of community centres in my constituency—as, I am sure, there are in other members' constituencies—that would not exist without the work of older volunteers. Those are local citizens who stand in to do the work in health initiatives, hairdressing projects, leisure and arts projects, sports and social activities for young people—a whole range of work. Without certain key people, many organisations would simply collapse. I am thinking of Mary Whitfield and Liz Walker in the Dumbiedykes; Gladys Purvis and Margaret Flynn at St Ann's community centre; Jean Donaldson of the writers group; Anja Amsel, who runs a number of civic groups and is on the new Canongate Community Council; George Pitcher, who is one of our community activists who gets sent in to stop things falling apart and to give the council a couple of months' grace; and Audrey Cormack of the Grassmarket area group.

I could probably spend another 10 minutes naming the key community activists in my constituency. Tonight, I acknowledge their work. They support me in my work as a constituency MSP, but they are also good as local volunteers who, on occasion, apply pressure where it hurts and—crucially—when it matters to ensure that we MSPs work with the council and with voluntary groups to make things happen. There is such a thing as society, and it is often our older volunteers who hold society together. They hold our communities together and create community well-being.

This is a time of opportunity, and I look forward to the Executive's response. I am glad that it is the Minister for Communities who will respond to the debate. The message is that people can retire into action and support their communities. There is a massive resource out there. The Parliament should celebrate the work that people do and look forward to helping to sustain that work and those communities. Crucially, we must ensure that the voluntary sector and people who volunteer are supported. They do a tremendous amount of work, and we should hope to see many more people enthusiastically retiring into action. I look forward to hearing colleagues' comments.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 5:19 pm, 8th December 2004

I congratulate Sarah Boyack on securing tonight's debate. As one of those older people, I never feel that I am a demographic time bomb. I can be a time bomb at times, but only if roused to anger, as some will know.

It is interesting that, at 30 per cent, the percentage of people who volunteer is very high among those in the 50 to 59 age group; 26 per cent of the 60 to 74 age group and 15 per cent of the over-75 age group volunteer. How often do we see people in their 80s who are as fit as fleas and whose brains are ticking away because they keep themselves active and engaged? Volunteering is good for those whom the volunteers help and it is certainly good for the volunteers. The old adage is that an active mind means an active body. It prevents isolationism and its children, which are depression and general ill health.

Older people feel as though they lose their individuality. I have not yet met that feeling myself, although I am sure that it will happen. "Retired" is a label that hangs around people's necks and makes them feel as if they have suddenly become invisible. Pregnant women face the same thing; they have lost their individuality. Older people either lose their individuality or feel that they have become a problem for society. Of course, they are not a problem at all; as Sarah Boyack said, they are a great advantage and resource.

I understand that some organisations still veto volunteers who are aged over 70. I hope that such ageism will disappear from those organisations' rules and regulations in the light of tonight's debate. Until quite recently, children's panels banned anyone over 65. I am glad that that rule has gone; I think that I raised the issue in Parliament many years ago. I suspect that the change has happened because there is a bit of a crisis in getting panel members, but whatever the reason, I am glad that the advantages and talents of people aged over 65 are now being used.

Older people have many talents. The talents that are hewn from experience are such things as experience, tolerance, patience, firm kindness and pace. I always like it when there is an older person at the till in Sainsbury's or Safeway because I know that they will give me time to put my messages into the bag. It is very important for vulnerable or anxious people to have that time on their hands and to know that they can take time over things. Older people make valuable and valued volunteers.

I think of my brother, who until fairly recently was in senior management. He retired and recently went with John Home Robertson to drive one of those lorries to Palestine to deliver items and goods to schools that have been devastated.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

I apologise that I will have to leave the debate to go to something else. I wanted to ensure that we noted the great value of older volunteers in other places in the world as well as at home. Just now, Christine Grahame mentioned some fantastic work. Organisations such as Beso and Voluntary Service Overseas actively encourage people with skills to go out to give long-term or short-term help to others who are less fortunate.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I also think of my father who does a kind of volunteering. He is nearly 90 and every Sunday he cooks Sunday dinner for a very thin and hungry student grandson. That is a major operation. He might only be volunteering to help one, but it has kept him as fit as a flea.

There are some barriers to older people volunteering. People might be caring for grandchildren. They might be caring for their parents; it is a long stretch between the ages of 60 and 90 and pensioners can have parents who are also pensioners. I am an example of that. People might also have to keep working because the basic state pension does not give them sufficient to live on, given the rising council tax and energy charges. On that basis, the voluntary resource might not be around. The minister might not be able to deal with that issue, but if people had a decent pension, more of them might be able to volunteer.

Without becoming politically controversial and a bit of a time bomb, I would say that it is very important that we recognise the value of older volunteers. Older volunteers turn around the idea that when people hit the age of 50 or 60, they go through some kind of time warp, they change, and they are no use; in fact, they are an asset.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative 5:24 pm, 8th December 2004

As an over-50, I am pleased to speak in tonight's debate. Although I am not looking for work at present, come the day when I retire, I would be delighted to do some voluntary work. I have previously worked as a volunteer prison visitor and I have done voluntary work for a citizens advice bureau, for a Child Support Agency panel and for the Red Cross. It was all absolutely wonderful fun. Perhaps one message that I would like to go out from tonight's debate is that people do not need to be over 50 to volunteer. The strong message is that one can volunteer at any age.

We should encourage older people from all backgrounds and areas of Scottish society to become involved in volunteering and charitable work. For example, most of the people whom I asked to be on the community council that I set up recently in Inverness south had not done any voluntary work before. They were delighted to be asked and we now have a successful community council that is full of volunteers. However, if I had not asked those people, we would still have no community council. Many people do not realise that their talents are needed because we are not good at valuing them. Many people are also unsure how to participate, so we need to make the opportunities and access to volunteering known to people of all ages.

Retirement is often the perfect phase in which to consider volunteering, in particular for non-profit organisations. However, precisely because volunteers receive no wage or payment, they should be even more valued than those who do. There should be no assumption that those who receive no salary do not make a valuable contribution.

As Sarah Boyack said, voluntary work can have beneficial effects for older people. It can benefit their physical and mental health by providing ways in which they can keep active and continue to learn new skills, to meet new people and to face new challenges. Volunteering can help to overcome the loneliness and isolation that are felt by many people, not only in remote areas but in big cities such as Edinburgh. It can also help to maintain a sense of time and give structure to the week. Volunteering can give a sense of purpose to those who feel cut off from social networks since retiring from their paid occupation.

Volunteering provides other benefits apart from the benefits to the individual. We need to work harder to identify those mature and experienced potential volunteers who could contribute a lifetime's worth of skills, knowledge and wisdom. Given the introduction of the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Bill, there is no doubt that local voluntary organisations will soon be required to administer and present more information. That will mean that they will have a greater need of retired people who have experience in life.

As I am running out of time, let me simply point to the many opportunities that exist for volunteers, especially in advocacy work. Like Christine Grahame, I welcome the fact that Euan Robson has scrapped the age limit for children's panel members. When the issue was raised, the minister promised to look into it and I am delighted that he has taken action.

Photo of Rosie Kane Rosie Kane SSP 5:28 pm, 8th December 2004

I congratulate Sarah Boyack on securing debating time for such an important issue.

Our debt to the voluntary sector is massive. There is an army of volunteers throughout Scotland who give freely of their time. We can never underestimate the difference that they make. It is no exaggeration to say that volunteers keep civic society afloat. Tonight's debate on Sarah Boyack's motion allows us not only to talk and think about that fact, but to say thanks and to pay tribute to those who give so much to society.

Rightly, the focus of the debate is on older volunteers. I do not know about others, but I was quite blown away by some of the figures in the briefing notes that we received from CSV's retired and senior volunteer programme and from Volunteer Development Scotland. One figure that must be mentioned is that 300 senior volunteers contribute 72,000 hours of classroom support across 14 education authorities in Scotland. Another is that 100 volunteers generate some 30,000 hours of community support to some of the most vulnerable people in society in seven of our health board areas. I am not sure how we say thank you for that, but I suspect that that is what we are attempting to do now.

I noted that some older people felt unable to volunteer because of the barriers to volunteering, which Christine Grahame mentioned, such as looking after grandchildren. The people who do that job might not belong to any organisation, but it still constitutes volunteering and supplies yet another essential service.

That leads me to the issue of informal volunteering. Older people volunteer much more than we can ever measure. Indeed, we can never really know the breadth of the services that they provide. For example, they might collect the shopping or the pension for a family member or neighbour; pop in to see whether a neighbour or friend is well; sweep up snow from the pavements or put down salt on paths to make them safe when it is icy—my mother does that; pick up prescriptions; accompany elderly, sick or infirm people to hospital; help out in community food co-operatives and after-school clubs; and organise gala days.

Many members will have seen the women in black, who stand in Princes Street protesting against weapons of mass destruction. My experience also suggests that older people have been at the forefront of fighting to save schools, pools and community centres. We do not always call those people volunteers—in fact, we often call them auntie or granny—but we should remember what they do.

Older people from all backgrounds pick up the slack, make a real difference and, as Sarah Boyack pointed out, save the Government billions of pounds. Volunteer Development Scotland highlighted that, in 2003, 81 per cent of adults in Scotland volunteered formally and informally. That figure is phenomenal, and the older section of those volunteers are more likely to be caring for the sick and elderly. Again, we thank them for their work.

I do not have the time to make all my points, but I will end by saying that these services are delivered silently by an army of older people who make such a difference to our lives. The voluntary sector is a vital cog in the Scottish economy and employs about 100,000 workers. We must recognise the difference that those people make and support them not just in our discussions and debates but in a practical and political way. As a result, I hope that the minister will offer such practical support at the end of the debate.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour 5:32 pm, 8th December 2004

I join other members in congratulating my colleague Sarah Boyack on securing this members' business debate. Her motion gives us the opportunity to acknowledge older people's invaluable contribution to our communities.

Anyone with any experience of voluntary and community organisations will know that the over-50s make up a disproportionately large percentage of all volunteers. Unsurprisingly, research that was done by Volunteer Development Scotland and Community Service Volunteers Scotland supports that subjective view.

In his book "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community", Robert Putnam concludes after analysing a massive amount of data that volunteering not only builds social capital and strengthens communities but improves the health and well-being of those who participate. His quite remarkable conclusion is that volunteering is as much an individual health issue as it is a collective social one.

However, volunteering is also of great benefit to the community. As other members have pointed out, older people play key roles in keeping alive a range of voluntary and community groups from food co-ops to credit unions, disability groups and local environmental groups such as the smarter Salsburgh project in my constituency, in which older volunteers help to improve the quality of life of all sections of the community, young and old alike.

I am proud to be a director of the local Petersburn development trust, which has secured more than £0.5 million to build a high-quality play facility for young people in Petersburn and Airdrie. I am sure that none of the group's members will mind me mentioning that many of them are more than 50 years old and that they are putting time and effort into improving matters not for themselves but for local young people. One of the project's central aims is to strengthen relations between the older and younger sections of the community to generate much greater understanding and to support young people's needs and desires.

Various barriers such as difficulties in obtaining insurance cover or getting time off work can prevent older people from volunteering. All parts of Scottish society must work in partnership to remove those barriers. The responsibility to address those concerns lies with all of us, including the Executive, local government and the private sector.

I am pleased that the Parliament is recognising the value of volunteers, particularly older volunteers. I congratulate Community Service Volunteers on the success of its retired and senior volunteer programme and I wish it well in its efforts to support and develop volunteering among older people.

Photo of John Swinburne John Swinburne SSCUP 5:35 pm, 8th December 2004

I thank Sarah Boyack for bringing this interesting topic to the chamber. In her speech, she succinctly highlighted the agist use of the word "older" and the stigma that is attached to the word. That word is generally used in an agist context, but Sarah Boyack does not use it like that.

I count myself as one of the more fortunate older volunteers, as I go about my daily task of attempting to stop unthinking politicians from sinking my generation more deeply into the financial mire. By the way, for every recognised and counted volunteer, dozens of others generally go unrecognised. They do not seek praise or plaudits, because they get an inner satisfaction that cannot be measured.

I saw a couple of interesting statistics this afternoon, which were that, of all those who are currently retired, a mere 35 per cent are male, while 65 per cent are female. I do not know how we have finished up with that state of imbalance, but the males of my generation will have to look closely at that. Perhaps we should ask someone to volunteer to investigate the situation that the statistics describe. In 1925, people did not get a pension until they were 70; then it was discovered that the average life expectancy of a working man in 1925 was 49. We have come a long way in three quarters of a century and are living much longer, but ageism is still rife in the 21st century. All the retired volunteers do a great job to reverse all the negative effects of ageism.

Sadly, I have difficulty in persuading younger people that age is not a barrier to leading a productive life. Our national economy would be greatly enhanced by the utilisation of all the talents and abilities that senior citizens in Scotland have. So many abilities are untapped. Many older people provide their skills voluntarily, but older volunteers should be rewarded by the state for what they do. They save the state a fortune by being volunteer home helps and making volunteer home visits, for example. There should be a way for the state to give older volunteers a little financial boost as a thank you, even though they are not looking for it. It is one thing to say thank you, but it is something else to put our hands in our pockets to show our thanks.

Older people have skills, abilities and years of experience, but we do nothing in this place to push for the use of all that for the general good of the country. Many older people do socially useful activities voluntarily, but if there was a scheme whereby volunteers could productively help society in 101 ways, this would be a better country to live in. Older people are happy to volunteer, but if they got a little increase in their pension at the end of the day, that would be a bonus. Older volunteers are not looking for that, but it is always nice to be appreciated.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 5:39 pm, 8th December 2004

Sarah Boyack has produced an excellent debate for us. It is interesting that tomorrow's members' business debate is about excessive winter deaths. I might be economical and make the same speech in both debates. The issues of this debate and tomorrow's are related, because if older people are active, they will not sit at home and just wither away.

Age discrimination was raised by Christine Grahame and by other members. That is important and we are beginning to break through, but there are still some voluntary organisations that have limits. There is a downside, because sooner or later somebody in the organisation might have to be clever about telling somebody, very nicely, that they are not really very good at counting the money any more and that they should perhaps move on to some other task. However, we can extend people's useful activity far longer than has been approved hitherto.

We must look at organising and making the best use of volunteers. Scots are not always easy people to organise, and we do not get any easier to organise as we get older. One cannot be like the chap in the New Testament who said that he could tell someone, "Go, and he goeth". Volunteers are not like that; one has to lead them, persuade them and work together with them as a team.

My second-hand experience tells me that some large voluntary organisations become more and more bureaucratic and are no different from large commercial or local government organisations. They have all the defects of size and do not value their volunteers or use volunteers in their management. One must use volunteers' brains. They are not merely pairs of legs and arms to do the skivvying; they can supply a huge amount of knowledge about the subject, as well as good advice and good management. That lesson must be learned.

Another good aspect of elderly volunteers is that they sometimes get on much better with young people. There is a sort of grandparent-grandchild relationship, especially when helping in schools or doing other things with young people. Some elderly people are particularly good at that, and I think that it is good for them. Sometimes, in organisations that I have known in the past, a group of elderly people have dominated a community centre and rather discouraged young people from coming in at all. That is certainly not what we want. We want the co-operation of older and younger people.

Above all, we must try to attract more volunteers. As other members have said, there is a lot of talent out there that we do not use adequately. We have to show that we value volunteers and a debate such as this helps to do that. However, serious effort must be put in, because there is a tendency in some central and local government quarters to believe that volunteers are difficult and cannot be easily organised. The official system is a bit hostile and unhelpful to them.

My experience tells me that what are most needed are treasurers. One can always get chair people, because there are megalomaniacs like me who will become chairman of anything if you ask them, but a treasurer actually has to do some work and carry some responsibility. I appeal to all potential treasurers of organisations who are out there to come and do their stuff.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 5:43 pm, 8th December 2004

I congratulate Sarah Boyack on securing the debate and on the positive motion that she has lodged. We sometimes talk about older people in a denigrating tone, but tonight's debate has been a celebration of what older people can and do contribute to society.

I am convener of the cross-party group on older people, age and ageing. As Donald Gorrie said, it is easier to be the convener than to be the treasurer, and Donald, as vice-convener, gives us lots of help, as does Nanette Milne. Every time we have a cross-party group meeting, it is amazing to hear how much work people from all over Scotland have done. They come along to the cross-party group and tell us exactly what they have been doing throughout the country. As Rosie Kane said, they help not only by going for prescriptions but by being involved in the Scottish Trades Union Congress pensioners forum. Some of them are 80 years old and they still continue to go along to meetings and to bring their expertise to our cross-party group.

This is perhaps a good time to make a little plug for the cross-party group's conference on Saturday, when people from all over Scotland will come along to the Parliament for the very first cross-party group conference. If it was not for the energy and support of those older people, the event would never have got off the ground, and I am proud and pleased to be involved in it.

Mention has been made of the attributes that elderly people bring. John Swinburne has mentioned the skills that elderly people have, and one thing that comes with those skills is older people's reliability, which we tend to forget about. We often take for granted their ability to ensure that they are somewhere at an appointed time and carry out a task. Throughout the years on the cross-party group I have noticed that if it was not for the reliability of those people, we would be going nowhere.

I am pleased that Sarah Boyack mentioned in her speech that this is not a touchy-feely debate. I have concerns and other members have expressed concerns, too. Karen Whitefield mentioned insurance cover, which is of great concern to many voluntary groups. Often, insurance companies will not give voluntary groups insurance cover for over-70s. I know that the matter is reserved, but I would like to think that members of the Executive would consider what they can do about the fact that people cannot get insurance cover and would take up the issue with their Westminster colleagues. As Christine Grahame rightly said, there are many sprightly over-70s—they are probably sprightlier than I am—who would love to volunteer for certain groups but cannot get the insurance cover. I would like the minister to take that matter up.

Another matter of concern is the volunteering strategy, which we discussed a few months ago. I spoke in that debate and I have the volunteering strategy in front of me. One of the matters that I raised with members of the cross-party group is the fact that the volunteering strategy does not include a strategy for elderly people who volunteer. Again, I ask the minister whether we will follow the Welsh example and have a strategy that is specifically for elderly people. It is right that we raise such concerns in this debate.

Another concern of mine is that Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has announced that 2005 will be the year of the volunteer. I have submitted these questions as written questions. If the minister has further information, I ask him to let us know which voluntary sector organisations in Scotland will be involved in the year of the volunteer that the chancellor has announced and how much money they might get to take forward their work.

I congratulate Sarah Boyack and all the other members who have spoken. I do not think that Scotland or even the world could go round without the work that is done by elderly volunteers. Members all meet such volunteers daily. Parts of the economy would collapse if they did not contribute in such numbers.

I say good luck to them, on my behalf and, I assume, on behalf of other members. I am glad that we have them with us, and I do not know what we would do without them.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour 5:47 pm, 8th December 2004

I congratulate Sarah Boyack on securing this important debate. Her motion covers her own constituency as well as the general issues.

Volunteering is central to our vision of

"a Scotland which cares for its people, where opportunities are increasing for everyone ... and where people have confidence in their communities".

No one should be in any doubt that older people are a central part of that vision.

Like Sarah Boyack, I acknowledge the superb work done by volunteers, particularly, in the context of today's debate, by older volunteers. We all appreciate the enormous contribution that older people continue to make to society. Rosie Kane highlighted their voluntary work in education and health. Those sectors are the ones used in the report that has been published today, on which I congratulate CSV.

The report concentrates on research into the benefits of volunteering. We know about the benefits for others, but Sarah Boyack and other members have highlighted the benefits for volunteers themselves. Volunteers can maintain and develop social contacts and enjoy the experiences that volunteering has to offer. Of course, as Sarah Boyack reminded us, volunteers can also improve their health and well-being, as volunteering provides a means to keep active and contribute to communities.

Through the Scottish Executive's volunteering strategy, which was launched earlier this year, we will embed a robust culture of volunteering throughout society. We are proud to be starting from a position of some strength, since Scotland is fortunate in having a strong tradition of volunteering. We also have an infrastructure in place to promote and support volunteering. The Scottish Executive core funds a national network of more than 40 volunteer centres as well as Volunteer Development Scotland, which supports volunteering at a national level.

Volunteering does not just happen. We know that people who get into the volunteering habit when they are young are much more likely to continue to volunteer later in life, including old age. By focusing on young people, we are aiming to create future generations that have not only got into, but stayed in, the volunteering habit.

Through investment in young people and programmes such as project Scotland and millennium volunteers, we have the power to change the culture for the long term. The strategy is not a here today, gone tomorrow initiative; it is about building volunteering into the everyday experience of all Scots—of whatever age, background or culture—for now and the future.

However, our focus on young people does not mean that we are neglecting other key life stages. For example, a key emphasis is the development of employer-supported volunteering, both as a means for staff to develop work-related skills and as a key element in the transition to retirement. The CSV "Retire into Action" report backs up the fact that the structure of volunteering can provide a flexible, sociable and effective replacement for the structure of work.

As Mary Scanlon reminded us, older people must be able to find out about volunteering outwith the workplace. That is why the strategy highlights the role of service providers for older people in carrying out the important task of raising awareness of volunteering, its benefits and how to get involved. That work is crucial to making volunteering part of the everyday experience of older Scots.

The issue is not just about making older people aware of, interested in and enthusiastic about volunteering. Community groups and organisations that engage volunteers have a key role to play. It is essential that volunteer managers, who are often volunteers themselves, recognise the value of engaging all types of volunteers, regardless of their age, social class or culture.

Donald Gorrie, Christine Grahame and John Swinburne highlighted age prejudice, which is being tackled through the strategy in general and which will be addressed through training, advice and guidance on diversity in particular. Such improved provision will be part of a broad programme of support that is available to those who recruit and manage volunteers.

I draw members' attention to two illustrative examples of initiatives through which the Executive is providing financial and moral support to voluntary sector organisations that work with Scotland's older people. The first is CSV's retired and senior volunteering project, which is an initiative for older people that increases learning opportunities, supports our social inclusion agenda and promotes volunteering by older people. The Executive's funding package amounts to more than £0.5 million for the three-year period from 2003 to 2006 and has enabled RSVP to become involved in schools, health care projects and the provision of support to disabled people. RSVP also helps to deliver environmental volunteering projects and even mentoring projects for young people.

Another example of successful volunteering by older people is the senior executive programme from Scottish Business in the Community. SBC enlists the services of volunteer retired business managers to assist voluntary organisations and groups in the community. Those retired experts have considerable skills that are of invaluable use to organisations. They help with finance, information technology, management, marketing, fundraising and media and public relations. As well as making an enormous contribution, they develop and maintain social contacts and enjoy all the experiences that volunteering has to offer. This year, volunteers in the initiative will contribute 20,000 hours. If that work was done by companies that charged professional fees, it would cost about £0.5 million. A hundred and seventy organisations have been assisted this year, but the figure is growing all the time. The Executive's contribution to the initiative will be £285,000 over the three years to 2006-07.

Sandra White asked about the year of the volunteer. I am considering options on that and I will make an announcement shortly.

There should be no financial barriers to volunteering, which is why the Executive covers the cost of checks for volunteers. As a disclosure check should cause the least possible disruption, we established the central registered body in Scotland to support the voluntary sector on all aspects of disclosure. I am pleased to be able to tell members today that the latest figures from CRBS show a significant improvement in performance in the time that is taken to process disclosures. CRBS is now clearing applications for processing by Disclosure Scotland within nine working days.

I hope that I have shown that the Scottish Executive is committed to promoting, supporting and developing volunteering by older people. We invest considerably through RSVP and the senior executive programme. We have a well-developed infrastructure through volunteer centres and Volunteer Development Scotland that supports volunteers and the groups and organisations that engage volunteers.

The volunteering strategy provides a clear direction to build on those achievements for the benefit of older volunteers and for us all. I commend all volunteers of all ages for the substantial contribution that they make to our nation. In the context of today's debate, I pay particular tribute to the thousands of older people who provide such an invaluable service to our communities.

Meeting closed at 17:55.