What is the economic contribution of the voluntary sector?
Gross Value Added (GVA)
- Government data can be used to measure the value of different sectors to the economy, from which we can estimate the economic contribution of the voluntary sector.
- Based on the method developed by NCVO and ONS, the voluntary sector contributed £20bn to the UK economy in 2018/19, or 0.9% of total GDP.
- The percentage of GDP has been relatively stable since 2015/16 than in the preceding four years, although it is fractionally higher.
- To put this figure in context, the contribution of the sector is less than the GDP of El Salvador (£20.7bn, ranked 104 out of 204 countries) and a bit more than Honduras (£19.2bn, ranked 105).
The voluntary sector contributed about £20bn or 0.9% of GDP
GVA of subsectors
The social services subsector contributes the most, worth £3.8bn, followed by the international subsector with £3.5bn and health with £2.3bn
- The same method can be used to calculate the Gross Value Added of different voluntary subsectors.
- The biggest subsector was social services at £3.8bn followed by international at £3.5bn, health at £2.3bn and culture and recreation at £2bn.
- Further analysis is limited by the size of the Almanac subsector samples.
The voluntary sector employed about 951,611 people in September 2020, about 40,000 more than in 2019
- The voluntary sector employed 951,611 people in September 2020, equivalent to 3% of the UK’s workforce.
- Since September 2019, the voluntary sector workforce increased by 3%. This contrasted with a 5% increase for the public sector and a 2% decline for the private sector workforce. In 2020, the public sector employed 7.6m staff and the private sector employed 23.9m staff.
- For comparison, the voluntary sector workforce was almost two-thirds the size of the NHS workforce, (the single largest employer in the UK with a headcount of around 1.5m in February 2020) and three times that of Tesco’s workforce (one of the largest UK employers with 319,000 staff in November 2020).
The estimated value of formal volunteering was £23.9bn in 2016
- An estimated 23% or about 12 million people formally volunteered at least once a month in 2019/20.
- The most recent ONS figure from 2016 estimated the value of voluntary activity in the UK to be £23.9bn.
- This figure was relatively stable between £22.3bn and £24.5bn between 2012 and 2015.
- However, this method does not capture the value of informal volunteering (volunteering that doesn’t take place in the context of a group or organisation) or the wider impacts of volunteering on the community or indeed on individual volunteers.
More data and research
- Download more Almanac data
- Read the report Changes in the value and division of unpaid volunteering in the UK: 2000 to 2015, published by ONS in 2017, providing an overview of the total time and value of voluntary activity
- Find out how the ONS got to the 2016 estimate of the value of volunteering
- Take a look at a recent report by Pro Bono Economics on the need for a better understanding of civil society’s contribution to the UK economy
Notes and definitions
Data on this page comes from multiple sources using the latest data available. For example, the information about the voluntary sector workforce covers a more recent period (2020) than the financial data used in the Almanac (2017/18).
Calculation of economic contribution
The contribution to the economy of different sectors is measured by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) based on their production or output (GVA), similar to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Note that contribution to GDP or GVA is not simply equal to turnover.
Although voluntary organisations are included in ONS estimates as part of ‘Non-Profit Institutions Serving Households’ (NPISH), NPISH is not synonymous with the voluntary sector. NCVO and ONS therefore developed a method of estimating the voluntary sector’s GVA, in the early 2000s. Although it has its limitations, we judge it provides the best indication of the economic value of the sector. The method calculates GVA as follows:
Staff costs + Expenditure on goods and services - Income from sales of goods and services
Economic contribution of subsectors
The Almanac sample is stratified first by size and region, and then by subsector (ICNPO classification). A review of the Almanac design in 2016 concluded that only eight of the 18 ICNPO subsector categories had sufficiently large samples of organisations of different sizes to be representative of their ICNPO subsector.
Economic contribution of volunteering
The ONS estimates of voluntary activity come from the UK’s Household Satellite Account and are part of their programme of going beyond the traditional measures of economic production such as GDP.
The estimates for voluntary activities are based on estimates of total hours spent carrying out regular formal volunteering from the Community Life Survey and wage rates from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings. The ONS approach is based on calculating how much it would cost to replace volunteers by paid staff.
Note that the value of unpaid volunteering for 2016 has been estimated using changes in participation rates to extrapolate the 2015 estimate due to change in comparability of the survey data (Community Life Survey) on which the estimates are based.