The number of people working in the voluntary sector fell by 2 per cent in the third quarter of 2010, according to the latest figures.
Analysis of the Labour Force Survey by three voluntary sector organisations reveals that the sector employed 793,000 people during the third quarter of 2010, down from 806,000 in the previous three months.
Employment in the private sector rose by 2 per cent over the same period, while public sector employment remained almost static.
The findings come as part of a continuing study of voluntary sector workforce trends by the Third Sector Research Centre and umbrella body the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in partnership with Skills – Third Sector, a government-funded charity working to address skills gaps in the sector.
Karl Wilding, head of research at the NCVO, said it was too early to tell whether the quarterly dip marked the beginning of a downward trend or was a blip in the long-term upwards annual trend in third sector employment.
But he said he was not surprised by the fall, considering the anecdotal evidence of organisations adjusting their workforces to take account of real and anticipated funding cuts.
He said the reason the anecdotal evidence had not shown up in the data already was the way organisations were restructuring their workforces.
"They are reducing staff to part-time hours rather than making them redundant," he said. "My instinct is that HR managers in the sector have tried to be innovative in dealing with reduced budgets for employing paid staff."