Key points

  • Ten million adults who are neither in paid work nor in full-time education do not participate in any social, political, cultural or community organisations.  This is more than half of all people not in paid work or full-time education.
  • Although women outnumber men in terms of non-participation, there is little proportional difference since there are many more women than men who are neither in paid work nor education.
  • Levels of non-participation are similar across the income distribution.
  • At a third of all adults, the proportion of adults who did not volunteer in 2009/10 was higher than at any point in the previous decade (where ‘volunteering’ here is defined as giving time for free to any group, club, organisation or individual excluding relatives).
  • A further quarter did volunteer, but less than once a month.  The remaining two-fifths volunteered at least once a month.
  • Levels of volunteering increase as income increases, but these increases do not really translate into higher levels of frequent volunteering.  For example, 80% of those earning £40-50,000 a year volunteer a least once a year, but 30% only volunteered irregularly (i.e. less than once a month), meaning that around half volunteered regularly (i.e. at least once a month).  By comparison, ‘only’ 70% of those earning less than £10,000 per year volunteer a least once a year, but 20% only volunteered irregularly, meaning that – again – around half volunteered regularly.
  • Patterns by level of deprivation are a bit different: those living in deprived areas are less likely to volunteer than those who living in other areas but, amongst those who do volunteer, are no more likely to volunteer regularly.  The net result is that those living in deprived areas are less likely to volunteer regularly than any other group of the population.

Why this indicator was originally chosen

Social networks are a means of finding paid employment and other forms of occupation.  A lack of contacts has been shown to prolong unemployment.  The long term unemployed often have low levels of social engagement beyond their immediate families. 1  Policies aimed at reducing poverty and social exclusion through paid work depend partly on fostering networks between the employed and unemployed.

For people for whom paid work is difficult to find, or inappropriate as in the case of pensioners, other means of participation can help to fulfil the basic human needs for a sense of competence, worth and socialisation.  These range from political parties, trade unions and tenants groups to social groups and sports clubs.  People’s local communities can provide numerous opportunities both for help and for the chance to help. 2

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows the number of people aged 16 or over who are neither in paid work nor in full-time education and who report themselves as not active in any of a range of social, political, cultural or community organisations.

The organisations are: trade unions, professional associations, environmental groups, parents’/school associations, pensioner groups, community groups, tenant/resident groups, women’s groups, religious groups, sports clubs, social groups and political parties.

For all people aged 16 and over, the second graph shows, for the latest year, how the proportion who are not active in any of the organisations varies by level of household income.

The data source for the first two graphs is the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS) and the data relates to the United Kingdom.  The question is only asked every other year.  In the second graph, income is gross household income, but these incomes are not equivalised (adjusted) to account for differences in household size and composition.

The third graph shows the number of adults who have either not ‘volunteered’ in the previous twelve months or have volunteered but less than once a month.  ‘Volunteering’ is defined as giving time for free to any group, club, organisation or individual (excluding relatives).  As such, it includes both ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ volunteering.  This is a somewhat different – and wider – definition than that used in the first two graphs.

The fourth graph shows how the proportion of adults who have either not ‘volunteered’ in the previous twelve months or have volunteered but less than once a month varies by selected characteristics, namely age, personal (not household) income and whether living in a deprived area or not.  To improve its statistical reliability, the data is the average for the latest three years.

The data source for the third and fourth graphs is the Citizenship Survey and the data relates to England and Wales only.  Note that, whilst the fourth graph includes volunteering arranged via employers, such data is not counted in the third graph as it is not available for the earlier years.  The net impact of this is, however, relatively small; for example, the 29% of adults who had not volunteered n the previous twelve months in 2008/09 in the third graph (which excludes employer volunteering) compares with 28% if employer volunteering had been included.

Overall adequacy of the indicator: medium.  BHPS is a smaller survey than the other national surveys.

Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

Overall aim:  Build more cohesive, empowered and active communities

Lead department

Department for Communities and Local Government.

Official national targets

None.

Other indicators of progress

Percentage of people who believe people from different backgrounds get on well together in their local area.

Percentage of people who have meaningful interactions with people from different backgrounds.

Percentage of people who feel they can influence decisions in their locality.

Percentage of people who feel that they belong to their neighbourhood.

Thriving third sector.

Percentage of people who participate in culture or in sport.

Previous 2004 targets

Increase voluntary and community engagement, especially amongst those at risk of social exclusion.

Reduce race inequalities and build community cohesion.

Tackle social exclusion and deliver neighbourhood renewal, working with department to help them meet their PSA floor Official national targets, in particular narrowing the gap in health, education, crime, worklessness, housing and liveability outcomes between the most deprived areas and the rest of England, with measurable improvement by 2010.

The numbers

Graph 1

Not in work/education who do not participate (millions)
Year Men Women
1991/924.1 6.9
1993/943.9 6.2
1995/963.8 5.9
1997/983.7 5.9
1999/003.6 5.8
2001/23.9 6.0
2003/043.6 5.9
2005/063.1 5.8
2007/083.7 6.0

Graph 2

Poorest fifth63%
2nd 59%
Middle fifth60%
4th56%
Richest fifth51%

Graph 3

Year Have not volunteered in the last year Have volunteered in the last year, but less than once a month
200126% 28%
200327% 22%
200524% 26%
2007/0827% 25%
2008/0929% 24%
2009/1034% 24%

Graph 4

CharacteristicHave not volunteered in the last year Have volunteered in the last year, but less than once a month
Age16-2427% 24%
25-3428% 29%
35-4423% 28%
45-5426% 27%
55-6430% 24%
65-7432% 19%
Personal income per yearUnder £10K33% 21%
£10-20K29% 25%
£20-30K24% 29%
£30-40K19% 33%
£40-50K20% 31%
£50K+15% 30%
Deprivation of small areaIn the most deprived fifth 39% 22%
In other areas27% 25%
1. Paugam S, 1995, ‘The spiral of precariousness’ in G Room, Beyond the threshold, Macmillan. 
2. Humm J, 1997, Progress report of the community sector observatory, CDF.