Volunteering rates hit an all-time low due to cost of living crisis

Amber Turner-Brightman
4 min readJul 2, 2023

Individuals’ struggle to make ends meet has left 30% of local organisations struggling to recruit or retain volunteers.

Government research has found that volunteering is at an all-time low, with only 55% of adults having taken part in volunteer work between 2021 and 2022, down from 62% in 2020/21.

Although respondents gave many reasons for not engaging in the voluntary sector, work obligations proved to be the biggest barrier, with 49% of respondents citing it as an impediment. In the context of the cost of living crisis, many have been forced to prioritise paid work over other commitments, which experts believe is a leading cause of declining volunteering rates.

Courteney Gudgeon, Volunteering and Community Engagement Officer at the University of Portsmouth, notes that whilst a person’s reasons for and barriers to volunteering are “personal to that individual”, the current economic climate is an external factor which may be having a large impact.

She says it could be “individuals needing further paid employment, time constraints surrounding personal, work and study commitments or flexibility surrounding opportunities” which are causing people to volunteer less.

Volunteering rates have declined significantly since 2013. Source: Community Life Survey 2021/22: Volunteering and charitable giving

She cites a recent Action Hampshire survey, in which 45% of local organisations suggested that the number of people with time available has decreased a little or a lot- with 30% recognising the cost of living crisis as an impacting factor on their ability to recruit or retain volunteers, specifically due to its impact on the lives of potential helpers.

However, she shares that volunteering has many benefits aside from payment, “from giving you the opportunity to gain course or career related experience, to enhancing employability and interpersonal skills to highlight on your CV”.

She adds that employers look specifically for skills which can be gained through volunteer work- such as proactivity, passion, and confidence.

For second-year Journalism student Nushie Adhikari- who currently holds an unpaid social media position at Portsmouth City Council around her lectures and other commitments- volunteering has given her many useful, transferable skills she would not have gained otherwise.

“It definitely boosted my confidence,” she says cheerfully. “I [feel] a lot more confident doing bigger projects, talking to other people, talking to clients that we deal with, [and] talking to random people I’ve never met before.”

Nushie Adhikari, a second-year Journalism student at the University of Portsmouth, volunteers part-time around her studies.

As part of her role she promotes small businesses, engages with the local community, and occasionally undertakes larger projects, like designing assets for this year’s Southsea Food Festival. This has allowed her to foster connections with local government and local businesses, as well as bolstering her CV.

She says that she has done a lot of networking, therefore sees the role as a possible “jumping point” into other, paid jobs. She believes having this kind of experience, and for such a large organisation, will make it “much easier” to begin a career after university.

In this regard, volunteering can be a valuable investment for those looking to enter a new career without having any previous experience- a particularly prescient option when considering 75.1% of workers in the UK are looking to switch jobs as a result of the cost of living crisis and rising inflation.

Whilst earning a sufficient wage is understandably a priority for many in the current economic climate, paid work and volunteering do not necessarily have to be mutually exclusive. 30% of participants in government research felt they had enough spare time to take part, and many students like Nushie juggle voluntary work with their studies and part-time employment.

Nushie currently works one day a week, in the morning before an afternoon lecture. She says her managers worked with her to find a time which would slot comfortably into her routine, so she doesn’t have any issues balance her time.

“It really fits my schedule,” she says. “[My supervisor] is really accommodating in terms of the fact that she lets me work from home on certain days as well.”

Courteney concurs that volunteering is a very flexible industry. She points out that some positions only require a few hours of our time a week, whilst others can be undertaken remotely, to aid with time management. One-off opportunities are also an option for those who are still exploring their options, or who are unable to commit to volunteering on an ongoing basis.

Above all else, her advice for those looking to balance volunteering with paid work or academic studies is: “It is important to look after your wellbeing, and where volunteering can support this, you don’t want to stretch yourself too thin. Make sure you are not taking on too much.”

--

--

Amber Turner-Brightman

Hi! I’m Amber, a Southsea-based MA Journalism graduate and writer. You can find all of my work compiled at amberbrightman.com <3