It is difficult to quantify the voluntary sector’s value to the wider economy. Three indicators are often used to estimate the sector’s contribution are:

  • the estimated output of the sector (known as Gross Value Added or GVA)
  • the number of people the sector employs
  • the contribution that volunteers make

Added Value (GVA)

  • The contribution to the economy of different sectors is measured by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) based on a sector’s production or output (Gross Value Added, GVA).
  • NCVO and ONS have developed a method of estimating the voluntary sector’s GVA, based on staff costs plus spending on goods and services less income from sale of goods and services.[1]
  • According to this method, the voluntary sector contributed £15.3bn to the UK economy in 2015/16, representing 0.8% of total GDP.
  • To put this amount in context, the contribution of the sector is similar to the GDP of Estonia (£15.5bn, ranked 101 out of 198 countries)[2].
  • The contribution of the sector has increased since 2014/15, both in terms of the amount and as a percentage of GDP and has moved up the GDP country ranking. Last year, it was closest to the GDP of Cyprus, then ranked 107 and ranked 108 in 2015/16.
Voluntary sector contribution to the UK economy, 2008/09-2015/16 (as % of total GDP)

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  • The voluntary sector workforce increased by around 35,000 (+4%) from June 2016 to June 2017.
  • 880,556 people worked in the voluntary sector in the UK in June 2017, equivalent to 2.8% of the UK workforce, the same proportion as in June 2015.
  • The public sector employed 7.0 million people and the private sector employed over 23.8 million.
  • The voluntary sector workforce is around three-fifths of the size of the NHS, the single largest employer in the UK (1,501,007 employees). Tesco employs just over half as many people (460,000).


  • An estimated 11.9 million people formally volunteered at least once a month in 2016/17.
  • The most recent figures from ONS, for 2015, estimate the value of formal volunteering in the UK to be £22.6bn.


Voluntary organisations are included in ONS estimates as part of ‘Non Profit Institutions Serving Households’ (NPISH) but NPISH includes other activities too, hence the need to develop a method to estimate the voluntary sector’s GVA. Although the method has its limitations, we judge it provides the best indication of the economic value of the sector.
Get the data here. Figures have been converted from US$ to GB£ using an average of the monthly HMRC exchange rates for the period.
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UK Civil Society Almanac 2018 / The Voluntary Sector /Sector overview

Published: 09-05-2018 / Tagged: | |