What do voluntary organisations contribute to the economy?
Gross Value Added (GVA)
- Government data can be used to measure the value of different sectors to the economy, from which we can estimate the economic contribution of the voluntary sector.
- Based on the method developed by NCVO and ONS, the voluntary sector contributed £20.2 bn to the UK economy in 2019/20, or 1% of total GDP.
- The percentage of GDP has been relatively stable since 2016/17 than in the preceding four years, although it is fractionally lower than last year.
- To put this figure in context, the contribution of the sector to the UK is less than the GDP of El Salvador (£21.1 bn, ranked 101) and slightly more than Cyprus (£20.2b n, ranked 102).
The voluntary sector contributed about £20.2bn to the UK’s economy, or 1% of GDP
GVA of subsectors
- The same method can be used to calculate the Gross Value Added of different voluntary subsectors.
- The biggest subsector was social services at £3.7bn followed by international at £3.1bn, health at £2.5bn and culture and recreation at £2.2 bn.
- Further analysis is limited by the small size of the Almanac subsector samples.
The social services subsector contributes the most, worth £3.7bn, followed by the international subsector with £3.1bn and health with £2.5bn
- The voluntary sector employed over 950,000 people in 2022, equivalent to 3% of the UK’s workforce.
- Since March 2020, the voluntary sector workforce grew by 4%. This contrasted with 8% growth for the public sector and a 3% decline for the private sector. In 2022, the public sector employed 7.8m staff and the private sector employed 23.6m staff.
- For comparison, the voluntary sector workforce was almost two-thirds the size of the NHS workforce, (the single largest employer in the UK with a headcount of around 1.4m in January 2022) and three times that of Tesco’s workforce (one of the largest UK employers with 326,000 staff in July 2022).
More data and research
- Download more Almanac data
- Find out how the ONS got to the 2016 estimate of the value of volunteering
- Take a look at research from Pro Bono Economics including a report on understanding of civil society’s contribution to the UK economy and blogs on voluntary sector productivity and how to measure charity impact.
Notes and definitions
Data on this page comes from multiple sources using the latest data available. For example, the information about the voluntary sector workforce covers a more recent period (2020) than the financial data used in the Almanac (2017/18).
Calculation of economic contribution
The contribution to the economy of different sectors is measured by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) based on their production or output (GVA), similar to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Note that contribution to GDP or GVA is not simply equal to turnover.
Although voluntary organisations are included in ONS estimates as part of ‘Non-Profit Institutions Serving Households’ (NPISH), NPISH is not synonymous with the voluntary sector. NCVO and ONS therefore developed a method of estimating the voluntary sector’s GVA, in the early 2000s. Although it has its limitations, we judge it provides the best indication of the economic value of the sector. The method calculates GVA as follows:
Staff costs + Expenditure on goods and services - Income from sales of goods and services
Economic contribution of subsectors
The Almanac sample is stratified first by size and region, and then by subsector (ICNPO classification). A review of the Almanac design in 2016 concluded that only eight of the 18 ICNPO subsector categories had sufficiently large samples of organisations of different sizes to be representative of their ICNPO subsector.