FIGURES analysed by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that, although more people in the UK are offering to volunteer today than previously, they are offering less time. In some age groups, such as those aged 25 to 34, the amount of volunteer time offered has shrunk from 15 minutes a day in 2000 to six minutes.
Those aged over 65, who at the turn of the century spent 19 minutes a day volunteering, now give only 13 minutes a day on average.
Women do slightly more volunteering, and spend longer doing so than men; and both men and women from higher-income families volunteer more than people from low-income households, the research found.
But the overall value to the economy of volunteering has dropped in the past four years by more than £1 billion, to £22.6 billion, owing to the decrease in volunteer hours.
Dominic Weber, from ONS, said that the research suggested that “the busyness” of people’s daily lives — including increasing workloads and later retirement age — meant that it was harder for them to give as much time as in the past.
The director of the Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC), Professor John Mohan, said that the 25-34 age group had been hit hardest by the economic downturn, which had resulted in a decline in their ability to offer “free” volunteer hours.
”That age group were entering the workforce when the recession hit. They’ve had much less choice over the jobs that they’ve taken, and many of them are working part-time and zero hours; so that’s going to have an effect on their ability to volunteer.”
The reduction in volunteer hours was coinciding with growing demands on the third sector, picking up the pieces from austerity, and also with a burgeoning population, he said. “So relative to needs, the available ‘resource’ is shrinking. Although the United Nations refers to volunteering as an ‘essential renewable resource’, it does not seem like it on this evidence.”
Earlier research by TSRC has shown that volunteer recruitment is becoming a problem for charities. The latest research did show one growth area for volunteers, however: the under-24s. More than half of those aged between 16 and 24 volunteered for an average of 17 minutes a day — the highest of all age groups in terms of participation and time offered.
Students, in particular, are more likely to volunteer for longer than those in paid work. Last year, 58 per cent of students volunteered for an average of 16.3 minutes per day, compared with 42 per cent of those in paid work, who volunteered for an average of 9.6 minutes per day.