How many people work in the sector and what do they do?

Overview

  • In June 2019, the voluntary sector employed 909,088 people representing almost 3% of the total UK workforce.
  • Compared to June 2018, there are 43,172 more people are working in the sector, representing an increase of 5%. This is in contrast to much smaller increases in the public (+1.6%) and private (+0.9%) sectors during the same period.

The voluntary sector has a paid workforce of 909,088, 5% more than in 2018

Over time

  • The voluntary sector workforce has grown since 2010 (+17%), as has the private sector workforce (+18%). However, the public sector workforce has decreased (-2%) during this period.
  • Since 2010, the voluntary sector workforce has increased every year except for 2011 and 2018 where there were small decreases.
  • The sector employs around 3% of the UK workforce, a proportion that has not changed over the same period.

The voluntary sector workforce has grown by 17% since 2010

By size

  • Voluntary sector employees are mainly concentrated in small organisations. In 2019, almost two-thirds (63%) of voluntary sector employees were employed in organisations with fewer than 50 employees. This is similar to the private sector but higher than for the public sector (53% and 28% respectively).
  • Just over a quarter (28%) of employees in the voluntary sector work in organisations with less than 10 paid staff. This is again similar to the proportion in the private sector (24%) but higher than the public sector (7%).

A majority of voluntary sector employees work in organisations with fewer than 50 paid staff members

By location

  • A majority of voluntary sector employees are employed in England (83%). This is broadly in line with the distribution of voluntary organisations (80%) in the UK and population patterns (84%).
  • Nearly a third (30%) of voluntary sector employees are employed in London and the south-east, two percentage points lower than in 2018. This is higher than for the public sector workforce (25%) and private sector workforce (29%).

Nearly a third of the voluntary sector workforce are employed in London and the south-east

By subsector

  • Social work is the largest single subsector with 338,963 employees accounting for 37% of the total workforce, followed by education (12%) and residential care (12%).
  • Since 2014/15, the number of employees working in the residential care subsector has decreased every year by 3% or 4%, but in 2019 it increased by 3%.
  • The social work subsector has grown by 15% since 2018.

Over a third of the voluntary sector workforce are employed in social work activities

More data and research

Notes and definitions

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.