volunteer numbers

The problem with volunteer numbers in the UK

Data from the Charity Commission register shows that volunteer numbers are both huge and poorly recorded.

The commission are confident that the overall number of volunteers within the UK is astonishingly large, and is estimated at 3.46 million.

Volunteering in all its guises seems a hugely popular thing to do, whether its a traditional form of short or long term commitment, or volunteering through time-banking, time credits or through the increasingly popular concept of Micro- Volunteering, where people provide support or advice in bite – sized elements.

However, its also clear that this data isn’t the most consistent. Large national charities often provide volunteer figures to the nearest ten thousand, and these figures can vary markedly over a decade or more.

Most commentators feel that the figure of 3.46 million, massive though it is, is probably very much on the low side and then it depends on how you measure what a volunteer is and that can be difficult. As David Ainsworth states:

“The government, in its definition of social action, has at times said that something as personal as giving someone else’s kids a lift to football practice counts as volunteering. There’s a lot of stuff about formal and informal volunteering, and the fact that we should replace the idea of volunteering altogether with the even more numinous concept of social action. This leads me to a common bugbear of mine. We vastly undersell the value of charities because we account for them according to their cash economy. We routinely say there are less than half as many charities in the UK as there actually are. We compound this issue by valuing charities by turnover, which leads us to see them as small compared to commercial companies with their vast incomes.”

But most importantly, charities don’t really put a value on volunteering, because it’s hard to count.

Andy Haldane, chief economist of the Bank of England and a man who knows a thing or two, reckons that volunteering is worth more than £50 billion to the UK economy. And even that may sell it short.

The essential problem is that charities are not really required to capture this data, and many do not. It is hard to put a book value on, and so it is not captured well in accounts. But perhaps it is time to try and address this more formally.

Source: Civil Society

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