How many people work for voluntary organisations and what do they do?


  • In 2022, the voluntary sector employed about 950,000 people. This is about 3% of the total UK workforce.
  • Since the first quarter of 2020, the start of the covid-19 pandemic, the voluntary sector workforce increased by about 12,000 or 4%. In contrast, the public sector grew by 8% while the private sector fell by 3% during the same time.

Over time

  • The voluntary sector has grown rapidly over the last decade, up by about 27% or the equivalent of 200,000 people since 2011. During the same period, the public sector grew by 10% while the private sector grew by 12% - which given their larger size their workforces grew in far greater numbers but at a slower rate.
  • The voluntary sector has always represented about 3% of the UK workforce, though this was just above 2.5% in 2011.

The voluntary sector workforce has grown by more than a quarter (27%) since 2011

By size

  • Most voluntary sector workers (56%) are employed by organisations with between 1 to 49 workers. Within this figure, one quarter (25%) work for organisations with between 1 to 10 employees. About a third (33%) work for organisations with between 50 and 499 employees and 8% work for organisations with over 500 employees.
  • Public sector workers are more likely to be based with larger employers, with 38% working for organisations with over 500 employees and 34% for organisations with between 500 and 499 employees.
  • Private sector workers are slightly less likely to be employed by smaller organisations (43% for between 1 to 10 employees) and slightly more for larger organisations (13% for those with 500 or more).

Almost three fifths of voluntary sector employees work for smaller organisations with fewer than 50 employees

By location

  • Over four fifths (83%) of the voluntary sector workers are based in England, about equal to its share of the UK population (84%). This is followed by Scotland, which has 11% of the workforce compared to 8% of the population, Wales with 4% compared to 5% of the population and Northern Ireland with 2% compared to 3% of the population.
  • In England, more than half of the voluntary sector workforce (51%) is based in the south - a higher proportion than its 45% of the population. Within the south, London has 17% of the voluntary sector workforce compared to 13% of the population, followed by 15% in the south-east (14% of the population).
  • The north has a lower proportion of the workforce with 19% compared to 23% of the UK population, including the north-west with 8% (11% of the population) and Yorkshire and the Humber on 7% (8% of the population).

Voluntary sector jobs are slightly overrepresented in London and the south of England, and Scotland

By place of work

  • 69% of the voluntary sector works from a place separate from home, which would be an office or co-working space. However, almost a third work at least partially remotely - 22% work from their own home and 8% work from different places with home as a base (hybrid).
  • For the public sector, only 13% work from home and 3% are hybrid. A quarter of private sector workers (25%) engage in remote working (17% at home and 8% hybrid).
  • Since March 2020, the proportion of voluntary sector workers who worked from home more than tripled from 6%. Those working separate from home fell from 87% to 69% and hybrid working rose from 7% to 8%. These trends continued up to December 2021.
  • The public and private sectors saw similar patterns in increase in home and hybrid working during the Covid-19 pandemic, this has not been to nearly the same extent as the voluntary sector.

Almost a third (30%) of the voluntary sector works from home or hybrid – higher than public and private sectors

By subsector

  • The largest subsector as an employer was social work, with over 365,000 or 38% of the total sector workforce. This was followed by residential care (about 115,000 or 12%) and education (just over 100,000 or 10%)
  • Since April 2020, people working in membership organisations grew 23% while human health went up 14%.
  • While human health staff grew consistently, membership staff numbers have fallen slightly since mid 2021. Similarly, social welfare and residential care have seen staff numbers fall since peaking in the first quarter of 2021. These trends could be related to the pandemic context, though for smaller sectors their staff numbers can be volatile.

Social work is the largest employing subsector

More data and research

Notes and definitions

To calculate the voluntary sector workforce, we use the ONS Labour Force Survey obtained from the UK Data Service for multiple years.

The voluntary sector workforce is small compared to the public and private sectors. This means that changes in the voluntary sector workforce tend to have a bigger impact. While a thousand or so people leaving one subsector and joining another would likely not be noticed in the private sector figures, this would constitute a significant change for the voluntary sector.

The difference in numbers between the sectors is also linked to the survey itself. As mentioned in the methodology section, 38,000 people are interviewed each quarter for the survey, but only about 1,000 report that they are from the voluntary sector.

This makes the voluntary sector figures much more liable to variation if the people interviewed differ in a considerable way. These fluctuations are often hidden in the other sectors because of the higher numbers involved.

Some of the survey questions have high 'don’t know' response rates which vary substantially across sectors. Where these materially affect the interpretation of the results, they have been included. Where they are consistently small across sectors, they have been excluded. Results can be explored in the full data.

For more information, please see the workforce data part of our methodology section.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 31 October 2022