Government survey reveals major shift in volunteering behaviour

The nature of volunteering has shifted markedly amid the Covid-19 pandemic, with formal arrangements dropping to an all-time low, while informal support for communities has risen to an all-time high.

The figures have been revealed in the government’s annual Community Life Survey, which includes the views of more than 10,000 adults across England during different times between April 2020 and March this year.

This found that while the number of people formally volunteering at least once a month has dropped to an all time low of 17%, there was an increase in the proportion of those volunteering informally to support their community.

The survey revealed an all-time high of 33% of respondents who had volunteered informally at least once a month, through community support such as shopping for a neighbour or looking after a friend’s children.

The survey also found that 95% of people felt they had people there for them to help, which matched the results of last year’s survey.

The most common barriers for people to take part in formal volunteering were work commitments, cited by 48% of respondents, and ‘I do other things in my spare time’, cited by 31%.

Key factors in taking part in formal volunteering are wanting to help people, mentioned by 50%, and supporting a cause that is important to them, cited by 33%.

“The past 18 months have been extraordinarily difficult for everyone, and have impacted our lives in so many ways,” said civil society minister Baroness Barran.

“I’m delighted to see the highest percentage on record of people informally volunteering, and throughout the pandemic, formal and informal volunteers have been there for those who needed help.

“I recommend everyone considers volunteering in some way whether big or small, not only to help their community, but also to experience the huge benefits of forming new relationships and improving mental wellbeing.

“We’ve stayed connected, helped out, and been there for each other. I absolutely feel that whilst it’s been a difficult time, we will emerge from the pandemic with a stronger, more connected society than ever before.”

Decrease in charitable giving

The survey also found that the number of people donating to charity has slumped amid the pandemic. It found that over the previous four weeks when responding to the survey, just 63% had given to charitable causes.

This is significantly lower than in 2019/20, when the proportion was 75%, and is the lowest rate of giving since the survey began in 2013/14.

The survey found that women were more likely than men to have given to charity over the last four weeks (67% compared to 59%).

Meanwhile, the lowest proportion of charitable giving by age was from 16-24-year-olds. Half of this age group gave to charity, compared to 70% of 65-74 year olds.

However, the survey notes that all age groups other than 16-24-year-olds saw a fall in charitable giving.

It also emerged that those living in the least deprived areas were more likely to have given to charity (67%) compared to those in the most deprived areas (60%).

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