The nature of the voluntary sector’s finances and the available data make it difficult to quantify the sector’s value to the wider economy. The sector’s contribution can be measured in terms of its spending, the people it employs or the contribution that volunteers make.

Contribution as measured in the National Accounts

The contribution of different sectors to the economy is measured by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) using GVA which estimates the value of production or output, similar to Gross Domestic Product (GDP)[1]. Voluntary organisations are included in ONS estimates as part of ‘Non Profit Institutions Serving Households’ (NPISH, see below) but NPISH is not synonymous with the voluntary sector. NCVO therefore developed a method[2] to estimate the voluntary sector’s GVA in consultation with the ONS in the early 2000s. Using this method, we estimate that in 2012/13 the voluntary sector contributed £12.1 billion to UK gross value added[3], equivalent to almost 0.7% of the GVA of all industries in the UK[4]. The voluntary sector makes a contribution to the UK economy comparable to other sectors: for example, the GVA of agriculture is £8.3 billion.

Contribution of the voluntary sector to UK GVA, 2012/13

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Source: ONS

NCVO GVA method


Contribution of volunteers to the economy

The measure of gross value added used above only includes the value of paid work. To get a full picture of the contribution of the voluntary sector to the economy, the extensive output of volunteers should be taken into account. We estimate that 21.1 million people formally volunteered at least once in the last year in the UK, and 13.8 million formally volunteered regularly. The ONS estimated from 2012/13 Community Life survey data that engagement in regular (at least once a month) formal volunteering in the UK is worth £23.9 billion per year[1].

Relative size of the voluntary sector workforce

The voluntary sector is a major employer. An estimated 821,000 people work in voluntary sector organisations. This is 2.7% of UK workforce, and compares with 25% who work for public sector employers, and 72% who work for private sector employers.


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ONS, valuing voluntary activity in the UK
This method has limitations but provides a reasonable indication of the “output” of the voluntary sector
Note that the ONS GDP figures are a ’chained volume’ measure, which means that all the numbers are presented in real terms, in this case in 2014 prices.
Statistical bulletin: Quarterly National Accounts, Q2 2014, ONS, 30 Sep 2014
Blue Book 2013, Chapter 06 – see table 6.4, item P.31
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UK Civil Society Almanac 2015 / The Voluntary Sector /The Big Picture

Published: 05-06-2015 / Tagged: