How many people work in the sector and what do they do?

Overview

  • In September 2020, the voluntary sector employed 951,611 people. This is 3% of the UK’s workforce.
  • Since September 2019, there has been a growth of 32,070 employees in the sector, representing an increase of 3%. Over the same period, the public sector grew by 5% and the private sector shrunk by 2%.

The voluntary sector employs 951,611 people, 3% of the UK’s workforce

Over time

  • The voluntary sector workforce has grown by 20% since 2010, averaging 2% growth a year. The private sector workforce has grown by 16% (or 1% per year), while the public sector has grown by just 3% over the decade.
  • The voluntary sector employs around 3% of the UK workforce, which has remained consistent since 2010 despite the sector’s slightly faster growth.

The voluntary sector workforce has grown by 20% since 2010

By size

  • Employment in the voluntary sector is dominated by smaller organisations. In 2020, 58% of voluntary sector employees worked in organisations with fewer than 50 employees. This compares to just 27% of public sector employees.
  • Just over a quarter (26%) of employees in the voluntary sector work in organisations with fewer than 10 paid staff.

Almost three fifths of voluntary sector employees work in small organisations with fewer than 50 employees

By location

  • 85% of the UK’s voluntary sector jobs are in England, with 8% in Scotland, 4% in Wales, and 3% in Northern Ireland. This is broadly the same as the broader population distribution.
  • London has the most voluntary sector jobs, with 17% of the total (compared to 13% of the UK’s population). A further 13% of jobs are in the south-east and 11% in the north-west. This is relatively close to the distribution of private-sector jobs, but slightly more south-east-focused than the public sector.

Voluntary sector jobs are spread around the UK fairly evenly, although are slightly over-represented in London

By subsector

  • Social work is the largest voluntary subsector with 360,551 employees (38% of the total sector workforce), followed by residential care (12%) and education (11%).
  • The two voluntary subsectors that have seen the largest growth in employees since 2019 are human health (17%) and scientific research and development (20%). This is likely related to the pandemic context, although as relatively small sectors their staff numbers can be volatile.

There has been substantial growth in voluntary sector jobs in the human health and scientific research and development sectors

By contract type

  • Voluntary sector staff are considerably more likely to be on part-time contracts (35%) than employees in the public (27%) and private (24%) sectors.
  • 8% of voluntary sector employees report being on temporary contracts. However, as almost a fifth of private sector employees don’t know the length of their own contract, comparisons with the voluntary sector should be avoided.

Over a third of voluntary sector staff are on part time contracts

More data and research

Notes and definitions

The voluntary sector workforce is small compared to the public and private sectors. This means that changes in the voluntary sector workforce tend to have a bigger impact. While a thousand or so people leaving one subsector and joining another would likely not be noticed in the private sector figures, this would constitute a significant change for the voluntary sector.

The difference in numbers between the sectors is also linked to the survey itself. As mentioned in the methodology section, 38,000 people are interviewed each quarter for the survey, but only about 1,000 report that they are from the voluntary sector.

This makes the voluntary sector figures much more liable to variation if the people interviewed differ in a considerable way. These fluctuations are often hidden in the other sectors because of the higher numbers involved.

Some of the survey questions have high 'don’t know' response rates which vary substantially across sectors. Where these materially affect the interpretation of the results, they have been included. Where they are consistently small across sectors, they have been excluded. Results can be explored in the full data.

Footnotes

  1. Nottingham Trent University, Sheffield Hallam University and NCVO (2021) Respond, recover, reset: the voluntary sector and COVID-19 - May 2021.

  2. Nottingham Trent University, Sheffield Hallam University and NCVO (2020) Respond, recover, reset: the voluntary sector and COVID-19 - October 2020.