Gordon Brown has a funny understanding of the way charities and volunteering work. He has been talking again today about his enthusiasm for involving young people in such activities. That's all well and good, but he seems to have missed the point of voluntary work.
That point, of course, is that it is voluntary - something you choose to do. All the benefits that Mr Brown describes, the community cohesion, the personal inspiration, the hard work that is generated, only happen because people are volunteering to take part. Unfortunately, his new proposal seems to be that young people should be forcibly compelled to do charity and community work.
That's not volunteering, that's pressganging. Not only is it extremely invasive and unfair to force such labour on people, it won't actually produce the desired benefit. The Prime Minister is right that the millions of people who do voluntary work are inspiring in their enthusiasm, work extremely hard and produce marvellous benefits for the causes they support. However, such results will be impossible to achieve with an army of pressganged teenagers. Volunteers are keen and self-sacrificing. A teenager forced to do something is anything but.