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Volunteering reduces youth isolation, but middle class benefits most – new research

New research unveils the positive effect of volunteering on feelings of isolation in young people.

A new report suggests that volunteering could be a powerful way for young people to overcome feelings of isolation.

The largest study of the experiences of people who volunteer in over a decade, based on a new survey of thousands of current and recent volunteers, found that over three-quarters (77%) of 18-24 year olds – the group most likely to be affected by feelings of loneliness – said volunteering made them feel less socially isolated.

But today’s study also found that while middle and working class young people were just as likely as each other to have volunteered in the last 12 months (37%), far more working class young people said they had never volunteered at all (36% of C2DE 18-24 year olds v 25% of ABC1 18-24 year olds: i.e. ABC1 young people were 45% more likely to have volunteered at some point than C2DE young people).

This corresponds with an overall pattern whereby people from middle class backgrounds are nearly 50% more likely to have volunteered in the last twelve months than those from working class backgrounds (44% ABC1 v 30% C2DE all ages). Of those surveyed, around 7 in 10 (69%) have volunteered at some point in their lives.

It is increasingly recognised that social isolation can have an impact on health and wellbeing – and that volunteering can address this (1). The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) warned that charities and the public sector needed to do more to give people from different backgrounds routes into volunteering.

In other findings, of those who had volunteered in the last twelve months:

  • 77% agreed that volunteering had improved their mental health and wellbeing, and over half (53%) said it had improved their physical health.
  • Three-quarters (74%) agreed that volunteering had given them more confidence, with the figure rising to 84% among 18-24 year olds.
  • 71% said they had gained new skills and experience, rising to 85% among 18-24 year olds.
  • 96% were satisfied with their experience and seven in ten (69%) would recommend it to others. 

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of NCVO, said:

As well as making a difference to the causes people care about, volunteering brings a vast range of benefits to those who take part.

Volunteering can be truly transformative for people’s lives. It reduces isolation, improves confidence, provides new experiences, improves employment prospects, and fundamentally it’s deeply rewarding.

But sadly, those who stand to benefit the most from volunteering are less likely to be involved.

Institutions – charities and the public sector – need to take a hard look at themselves and think about what barriers they may inadvertently be creating.

In particular, we need to make sure it’s easy to start volunteering. Our research suggests young people have higher expectations of the process being simple and quick than older people.

We know that building stronger connections within communities helps people live healthier, more satisfying lives, and takes pressure off public services.

Largest study of its kind for a decade

The research was undertaken by NCVO, which champions charities and volunteering. The study, developed in association with those working in volunteering, represents the largest survey on the experiences of volunteers for over a decade. In addition to publishing extensive analysis of the survey today, NCVO will produce further in-depth analysis on a number of topics covered over the course of the coming year.


The research was conducted by NCVO, based on a survey completed by adults aged 18+ in Great Britain through YouGov’s panel. The total sample was 10,103 respondents, weighted to reflect the national population by key demographics. ‘Volunteering’ refers to giving unpaid help through a group, club or organisation.

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