Projects Abroad looked into sueing the UK government for supporting the less privileged to volunteer abroad


In 2012 the UK government planned to expand its International Citizen Service. But the idea was not received well by the management of the UK based volunteer travel company Projects Abroad as they viewed the government as a competitor, not a solution provider and thus considered to take legal action against the government.

Voluntourism companies to expansive for low income mileus

Over the past 25 years, Projects Abroad has grown to one of the biggest volunteer travel companies worldwide. In 2019 prices start at 1 770 US$ for one week. This does not include air tickets, visa fees as well as many other costs. Therefore, the company mainly caters to a specific niche such as young and wealthy adults from financial stable and well educated milieus. This is one of the many reasons why youth with a poor background do not have the option to volunteer overseas.  

UK government planned to subsidy volunteer oversea trips depending on family income

As young people from mileus with lower income and/or education rarely have the opertunity to take part in such programs but benefit most from learning service trips it was good news, that the uk government decided to support them. The government planned in 2012 to offer up to 7,000 subsided overseas volunteering placements to young adults aged between 18 and 22 years from 2012 to 2015. The government subsidy covered between 50 to 100 percent of the placement cost, depending on the family income. The program was ultimately a very welcoming relief for young adults and enabled youths from a variety of backgrounds to contribute to the global community through voluntourism. It is no surprise that the pilot program received more than 500 participants.

Projects Abroad planned to sue government for takeing away business

Projects Abroad started with similar intentions. But in 2012, Projects Abroad seemed to have lost its initial views due to commercialisation. At that time, Peter Slowe, managing director of Projects Abroad, said the government program would take business away from companies offering overseas placements. At that time, Projects Abroad had instructed its lawyers to investigate the legality of the subsidized places under EU regulations. Even so, projects Abroad was making huge profit. Peter Sloew complained, “Why is the government planning to interfere in this way in a thriving competitive sector that is dominated by small and medium-sized enterprises?” “The government says it is committed to stimulating growth among SMEs to generate jobs and then uses public funds to compete with SMEs in our sector.”

A spokeswoman for the Department for International Development, which is funding the International Citizen Service, issued a statement that said: “Encouraging and supporting greater social action is one of the coalition government’s top priorities. The International Citizen Service is one of the many ways that the coalition government is achieving this aim.”

Commercialisation of volunteering overseas has a negative impact

This was a sign of the negative impact of the commercialisation of  the volunteering overseas sector. Today most big volunteer travel companies no longer believe in their initial goal. It is disturbing to see, that one of the biggest companies did not support government policies that catered for larger youth groups from unprivileged milieus.

But not all companies and volunteer sending organizations think this way. Rachel Collinson, sales and marketing manager at Raleigh International, an overseas volunteering charity, said it supported the government investment in the International Citizen Service programme. “We believe that the government scheme offers a unique position,” she said. “There’s room in the market to encourage a greater diversity of young people to get involved in sustainable development programmes abroad.”