Formal volunteering down, informal volunteering up

Change in each annual figure is one per cent, according to the final Citizenship Survey by the Communities and Local Government department

Mike Locke of Volunteering England comments on the story
Mike Locke of Volunteering England comments on the story

The number of people volunteering formally at least once a year has fallen to its lowest level for 10 years, new government figures show.

The Communities and Local Government department surveyed almost 16,000 people in England and Wales through two polling companies for its Citizenship Survey 2010/11, published last week.

The results show that 39 per cent of adults had volunteered formally at least once in the year to the end of March 2011, down from 40 per cent the previous year and the lowest proportion since 2001.

Formal volunteering is defined as "giving unpaid help through groups, clubs or organisations to benefit other people or the environment".

A total of 25 per cent of adults volunteered formally at least once a month in 2010/11, unchanged on the previous year, when it reached the lowest level since 2001.

The data showed that informal volunteering, which is defined as "giving unpaid help as an individual to people who are not relatives", increased slightly in 2010/11.

The number of adults informally volunteering at least once a year increased to 55 per cent, up one percentage point from the previous year, when it reached its lowest level for nine years. The figure was 68 per cent in 2005, when it was at its highest level since 2001.

The level of monthly informal volunteering stood at 29 per cent in 2010/11, no change on the previous year, when it reached its lowest level since 2001.

Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, said: "It’s very encouraging that the decline in volunteering and civic participation has stopped. And community spirit is on the rise – more people feel like they belong strongly to their neighbourhood than recorded at any time in the last decade. This is very positive news, especially in a time of economic difficulty."

Mike Locke, senior policy and information manager at Volunteering England, said the results showed that most people across England continued to donate their time for the benefit of their community.

"However, the apparent fall in informal volunteering since 2005 is of some concern, although we are yet to uncover the reasons behind this trend," he said. "Nevertheless, coupled with reduced funding to the voluntary and community sector, it does raise questions for the government’s ambitions to reform community services."

The government has decided to stop carrying out the survey because of its cost.

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