Re-establishing volunteer and giving levels will require ‘active and co-ordinated efforts’, think tank warns

Charities and the government must work together to re-establish rates of volunteering and giving in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, the think tank Pro Bono Economics has warned.

Matt Whittaker, chief executive of PBE, was speaking after the Office for National Statistics released updated figures on “social capital” in the UK, including data on civic engagement and social network support.

The figures include previously published government statistics that showed the proportion of people who said they had given to charity in the four weeks before they were polled fell to a record low in the year to the end of March 2021.

It found the proportion of people who said they had been involved in formal volunteering – which would have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic closing many clubs – also fell to a record low over the same period.

Whittaker said today that the sharp fall in formal volunteering was likely to be the product of reduced opportunity at the height of the pandemic.

“But there is a big question mark as to what happens next,” he said.

“Volunteer rates have struggled to recover in the aftermath of past periods of collective difficulty, and the onset of an unprecedented squeeze on family incomes is only likely to make it harder to return to pre-pandemic volunteer levels.

“Re-establishing volunteer and giving habits will very likely require active and co-ordinated efforts on the part of the sector and the government.”

He added that the data confirmed what was already known from many charity surveys over the past two years – “that the pandemic hit the sector’s income in a significant way”.

He said: “It’s likely to reflect less a reduction in generosity on the part of the public and more a limiting of opportunity, with the closure of charity shops and cancellation of events restricting fundraising efforts.

“Whatever the cause, though, the damaging impact on charities is the same. Crucially, it leaves many in a precarious position just as they are being asked to take on the important job of supporting the country through the cost-of-living crisis.”

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