Cabinet Office figures say the downward trend began in 2005, and charities minister Nick Hurd says the turnaround is not solely down to the Olympics
The proportion of people volunteering regularly has increased for the first time since 2005, new figures from the Cabinet Office indicate.
The Community Life survey, published today, says that the proportion of people volunteering at least once a year rose by six percentage points, to 71 per cent, between 2011 and 2012, reversing six years of gradual decline.
The proportion of people volunteering once a month also increased, from 41 per cent in 2011 to 49 per cent last year.
The survey is based on 2,262 interviews with adults in England, carried out between August and October. It replaces the larger Citizenship Survey, which previously collected data on social action including volunteering, charitable giving, community engagement and wellbeing from about 9,000 people over the course of a year.
Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, told Third Sector that the spike in volunteering represented a wider change in behaviour and was not solely down to the Olympic Games.
"A lot of the activity predates the Olympics," he said. "It involves millions of people and it is happening across the country. There is no doubt the Olympics was something inspirational and something that will affect future surveys, but it is not the whole uptake."
Hurd said one of the things that stopped people volunteering in the past had been a lack of time. More and more employers were now recognising that encouraging their staff to get involved in the community was a good thing, he said.
Hurd said the increase was due in part to government-backed programmes such as the National Citizen Service, in which 26,000 young people participated last year, and the Social Action Fund, which has supported 40 charities with £20m to help them recruit more volunteers.
The publication of the survey coincided with the formal launch of the Dementia Friends initiative, run by the Alzheimer's Society and funded by the government. It is hoped a million volunteers will be recruited.
"We are determined to seize the opportunity of the Olympics, which reminded us all of the value of volunteering, and work with the voluntary sector and the business community to develop exciting opportunities for people to get involved," said Hurd.
He said that the ongoing reformation of Criminal Records Bureau checks would also make it easier for people to volunteer.
The survey says that the proportion of people who said they had given to charity in the previous four weeks had increased, with 74 per cent respondents saying they had done so, compared with 72 per cent at the same time the previous year.
This figure contrasts with trends reported in other giving reports such as the UK Giving Survey, which showed a significant decline in donations.
Community Life also says that 48 per cent of people said they would like to be more involved in council decisions affecting their local areas.
Sir Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the chief executives body Acevo, said: "Given the tough economic climate, these are remarkably positive figures that demonstrate both the generosity of the British public and the resilience of the voluntary and community sector.
"The voluntary sector benefits hugely from the support and participation of so many people, and the challenge now is how to grow and protect this great national asset at a time when many charities are feeling the effects of public spending cuts."