A new report suggests that volunteering should be built into the levelling up agenda because it can improve physical and mental health.
New research by the Royal Voluntary Service says the Covid-19 pandemic negatively affected the health and social fabric of Britain’s poorest neighbourhoods.
But the report, called Volunteering for a Healthier Britain, finds those who have supported the civic response to the pandemic had fared better than those who had not.
The data, based on an analysis of 2,500 UK adults, identified more than a third of those in the most deprived areas had few if any people to call on for company and one in three feel lonely.
Respondents in deprived areas were twice as likely than those living in more affluent areas to say their mental and physical health was much worse than before the pandemic, the report says.
But the study identified that volunteering could be a protective factor and could be a powerful tool to help address health inequalities.
The report says that 21 per cent of people who volunteered said their mental health was better than 12 months previously, compared with just 13 per cent of those who had not volunteered.
It says 28 per cent of volunteers reported improved physical health compared with 14 per cent of non-volunteers and 23 per cent of volunteers said their general wellbeing was better than 12 months ago compared with just 13 per cent of non-volunteers.
Catherine Johnstone, chief executive of the RVS, said “A civic minded nation is a happier and healthier nation.
“By encouraging and supporting volunteering in communities we can improve the lives of millions of people. No more so than in our most deprived communities.”
RVS says its findings reinforced a study from April by the London School of Economics.
LSE’s analysis of the NHS Volunteer Responders programme also found that volunteering was a driver for significantly higher well-being scores, as well as greater feelings of social connectedness and belonging compared to those who did not volunteer.
Johnstone said: “Supporting social connections is at the heart of tackling health inequalities. Our new report makes clear the ways volunteering can improve wellbeing and our sense of belonging.
“Making volunteering a key part of the recovery will help us build back a fairer and healthier society. It is a driver for health and happiness which will in turn support economic productivity.”