Voluntary sector undervalued by £160bn, report concludes

The value of charitable work in the UK is undervalued by about £160bn, according to a new report.

The paper, called Civil Action, was published today by the research charity Pro Bono Economics, to mark the start of its Law Family Commission on Civil Society.

The commission is a two-year initiative that aims to examine how the potential of civil society can be unleashed in the UK.

Polling conducted by YouGov for the report showed the public overwhelmingly value the charity sector, with 84 per cent of people in the UK believing charities play an important role in society.

But the report suggests that this is "undervalued and overlooked" and not reflected in the sector’s involvement in national decision-making.

"The value that the public places on charities isn’t reflected in the numbers that drive decisions in our country, with official figures underestimating the value of charities by £160bn," it says.

Figures published earlier this year by PBE said the UK charity sector contributed £200bn in economic value each year, but the official valuation was £17bn a year.

The new report also shows that 18 million people in England helped friends or neighbours with tasks such as shopping and dog-walking during the first lockdown.

By contrast, PBE estimates that six million fewer people in England volunteered or supported their neighbours during the second lockdown, with only 26 per cent of people having done so since the start of October.

Recognition that the pandemic has pushed charities and community groups to the fore is high, with half of adult respondents saying charities and community groups played a very important role supporting society during the pandemic.

The report highlights some negative attitudes towards charities, with slightly more than one-third of respondents saying they believe charities are wasteful and a similar proportion saying there are too many charities in the UK.

The publication argues that if charities are to fully achieve their potential and to harness the community spirit that Britons showed was possible through the first lockdown, systemic change is needed.

It says that 40 per cent of people think Britain would be a better place if charities and community groups had more involvement in decision-making at a national level, while 42 per cent agreed that having additional support from the government would help charities achieve more.

Lord Gus O’Donnell, the former cabinet secretary and who is chairing the new commission, said: “The Spending Review spelt out how the economy and public services are expected to evolve but said little about the role of the civic sector. If we are to build back better and level up we need urgently to unleash the full potential of this vital sector.”

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