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 £17.8bn to the UK economy in 2020/21, or 0.8% of total GDP.
  • The percentage of GDP had been relatively stable since the slight increase in 2015/16, but it is very slightly lower in 2020/21 than in 2019/20.
  • To put this figure in context, the contribution of the sector to the UK is less than the GDP of Zambia (£18.3 bn, ranked 108) and slightly more than the GDP of Yemen (£17.1bn, ranked 109).

The voluntary sector contributed about £17.8bn to the UK’s economy, or 0.8% of GDP

GVA of subsectors

  • The same method can be used to calculate the Gross Value Added of different voluntary subsectors.
  • The biggest subsector in 2020/21 was social services at £3.4bn followed by culture and recreation, and international (each at £2.3bn), and health at £2.1bn.
  • 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 about 925,000 people in 2023, equivalent to 3% of the UK’s workforce.
  • Since March 2020, the voluntary sector workforce has grown by 4% up until the end of 2022. This decreased again by 4% from 2022 to 2023.
  • This contrasted with steady growth each year since 2018 for the public sector, with a further 2% increase in 2023.
  • The private sector has been fairly stable since 2020. In 2023, the public sector employed 8m staff and the private sector employed 23.8m 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 in England of around 1.4m in May 2023) and three times that of Tesco’s workforce (one of the largest UK employers with 309,000 staff in July 2023).

The voluntary sector employed over 925,000 workers in 2023

More data and research

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 (2022/2023) than the financial data used in the Almanac (2020/21).

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.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 12 October 2023