Social drivers

Emerging inequalities and impact on charity service demand

Socioeconomic inequality continues to be arguably the biggest social issue affecting the UK. There has been greater recognition of the intersectional nature of how the pandemic has affected people by:

  • class
  • ethnicity
  • gender
  • sexuality
  • geography
  • age
  • disability.

Emerging evidence is highlighting how the pandemic has worsened long-term systemic inequalities like access to public services such as education and learning, notably highlighted in the gap between public and state schools for GCSE results.

As highlighted in previous sections, political decisions and major economic challenges will likely see charities experiencing rising demand for their services.

Government decisions such as the end of the £20 per week universal credit uplift and rising National Insurance rates and economic trends such as rising rents including working-class neighbourhoods, increasing food and energy price and potential shortages will disproportionately hit those on lower incomes.

There will also be cost implications in response to long covid, worsening mental health, and the education and learning gap. Charities will likely need to adapt and expand their services to meet rising demand from the communities whom they serve.

Changing public opinion on social issues

Public attitudes on some social issues are changing - both over time and in response to the pandemic. On social security, public views have become less severe.

According to the latest British Social Attitudes Survey, those who thought that most unemployed people could find a job if they wished fell from 69% in 2005 to 51% in 2019 and scored 51% and 42% in two lockdown surveys.

Similarly, those who thought benefits were too high has fallen substantially from 2011 to 2019. Polling indicates widespread support of an implementation of a universal basic income, which has likely been influenced by the pandemic and furlough scheme. 

On health, there has been a continued decline in vaccine hesitancy this year, albeit with persistently higher rates for some groups.

Despite negative media coverage, the issue of trans rights is less divisive than portrayed. Recent YouGov polling shows that 71% of people in the UK would be broadly supportive if a child, sibling or family member came out transgender or non-binary. 

There is more support than opposition to gender self-identification and rights to use chosen bathrooms and enter cisgendered spaces such as women’s support groups or emergency accommodation. 

However, there is also evidence of differences in opinion between public attitudes and trans peoples’ personal experiences.  Recent research on the experiences of trans people in applying for jobs and in the workplace shows common instances of discrimination, bullying and exclusion.

These changes in public opinion will impact how charities target and deliver services in a way that’s inclusive of diverse experiences and needs, both within the communities they work with or their own workforce and volunteers.

Charities involved in activities such as welfare, health and rights-based advocacy could consider how they build on existing levels of public support to mobilise supporters, resources and partnerships to further influence public and political opinion and push for legal and policy changes.

The future of volunteering and participation

Recent changes to volunteering may continue to affect organisations and volunteers. During the pandemic, levels of formal volunteering (through an organisation such as a charity) declined.

According to the Community Life Survey covering the year 2020/21, those over 16 years old who volunteered at least once a month for a formal organisation fell to 17% from 23% in 2019/20, and those who volunteered at least once a year decreased to 30% from 37%.

The biggest decline in volunteering was for older people and Disabled people, whereas a higher proportion of younger people volunteered for the first time.

These changes could have an impact on the diversity of volunteering over time and volunteer-involving organisations will need to consider how they create and manage opportunities that are inclusive and accessible.

During the pandemic, new forms of participation have arisen, most notably mutual aid groups, and more attention towards how communities might give their time in new or different ways, such as Bristol City Council’s citizen's assembly.

Volunteering is increasingly conducted remotely through activities like befriending and social media, but this depends on - and can exclude those without - digital devices, skills and confidence, broadband and data.

A greater proportion of volunteers overall are motivated by a sense of community and willingness to protect neighbours and their community, and organisations may need to consider adapting their offer or developing new opportunities for volunteers to give their time more flexibly.

Volunteer-involving organisations that deliver health and social care services will need to be aware of and plan for upcoming changes to regulations, which will require staff and volunteers to be fully vaccinated.

These regulatory changes will apply to staff and volunteers in Care Quality Commission (CQC) regulated services who have direct, face to face contact with service users, including for non-clinical roles.

The requirements may have significant personal implications for staff and volunteers and could leave charities facing increased numbers of vacancies.

Organisations should conduct routine robust risk assessments, and keep up to date with any future changes for vaccine requirements.

England currently does not have a clear and defined national strategy for volunteering, unlike other UK nations such as Scotland. To address this, a number of organisations have created the Vision for Volunteering.

Volunteer involving organisations can get involved to help to shape and define a 10-year ambition for volunteering in England.

The strategy and action plan will support the voluntary sector to set the direction for volunteering, to bring positive changes for volunteers and communities, and to use this to drive our influencing work with government and key decision-makers.

Communities and the role of charities

The pandemic has highlighted the role of charities in communities. Civil society now has the opportunity to advocate for a place-based recovery that helps correct long-term geographic inequalities.

The voluntary sector is increasingly seen as having a role in taking over community assets at risk of closure such as:

  • pubs
  • post offices
  • museums
  • and sports and leisure facilities. 

Power to Change, Locality and Cooperatives UK operate the Community Shares Unit to provide funding for community organisations to take over businesses and community assets.

This is carried out typically through the community benefit society model that uses staff and volunteers and is democratically controlled by its members.

The Community Ownership Fund, announced in March 2020, provides £150m over four years in matching unds of up to £250,000 for community benefit societies, charitable incorporated organisations, community interest companies and not-for-profit companies limited by guarantee to take over at risk-assets.

The Liverpool City Region Land Commission has recommended more local powers to shift public and private land into community ownership through community land trusts and social enterprise, and first right of refusal to purchase publicly-owned land.

New types of partnership between the voluntary sector and government can also transform the role that charities play in their communities. Community wealth building, using anchor institutions such as local authorities, schools and NHS trusts to purchase goods and services locally, could change the nature of voluntary sector involvement in public services.

This is included new hybrid models of adult social care delivery with local authorities and social enterprises. Preston Council has joined with the Community Food Network and Cooperatives UK to help local community groups to pilot food cooperatives for cheap, nutritious food for their members.

These initiatives create new opportunities for charities in local communities. Any evolution of the role that the voluntary sector plays in communities will still rely on its traditional strengths, especially for smaller, more local, and regional charities.

This includes local knowledge and skills to reach and engage with diverse communities, and the ability to use innovative approaches to address problems linked to local conditions.

The future of work

ONS research claimed that, during 2020, 37% of the population had worked from home at some point. Coming out of lockdown, there is some pressure for people working remotely to return to the workplace.

This has established a divide between the right to ask to work remotely versus a push for the right to work remotely. 

According to polling from Opinium, 89% of respondents back a fully flexible approach to returning to the office followed by 75% for working three days in the office and two days at home as the next favoured approach.

However, working from home is still not an option for most of the workforce. In 2020, professionals in wealthy suburbs in the south of England were more likely to work from home, while those outside the south of England, younger people and those from some BAME groups were less likely to do so.

Outside of higher-paid, professional roles, most jobs probably depend on a level of personal interaction that cannot easily be replicated remotely.

In the voluntary sector, this would include many jobs in theatre, food banks, libraries, playgroups and nurseries, and social care, which will continue to be done face to face.

Workforce diversity remains an ongoing issue. In the latest NCVO Almanac, from Labour Force Survey data from September 2020, those aged 16 to 34 make up 27% of the voluntary sector workforce compared to 29% in the public sector and 36% in the private sector.

Similarly, 9% of the voluntary sector workforce are from a Black, Asian or minoritised ethnic background, compared to 12% for public and private sectors.

Charities addressing the diversity of their own workforce might think about the specific barriers to entering the voluntary sector workforce, including:

  • recruitment process
  • entry-level pay
  • professional and skills development
  • flexibility
  • adjustments around hours and personal circumstances
  • and potential for internal promotion.

Questions for your organisation to consider

  • How have the needs of the communities you work with changed or intensified due to the pandemic?
  • How could changing public opinion on particular issues affect the communities who you work with and your organisation’s work?
  • How has volunteering changed for your organisation during the pandemic? How can you ensure that volunteering opportunities are accessible, enjoyable and safe for both new and old volunteers?
  • Can your charity play a role in supporting community ownership of assets?
  • How do your plans for working in the future meet community needs while remaining inclusive and flexible for staff needs?
  • How can your organisation work with local authorities and mutual aid groups to maximise the impact of future joined-up approaches to problems and emergency mobilisation?

Further information

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 18 January 2022