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


  • In June 2018, the voluntary sector employed 865,916 people representing almost 3% of the total UK workforce.
  • Compared to June 2017, there was a small decrease in the number and proportion of people working in the voluntary sector. This was in contrast to small increases in the numbers working in the public and private sectors.

The voluntary sector has a paid workforce of 865,916, slightly less than in 2017

Over time

  • The voluntary sector workforce has grown over the last eight years (+11%), as has the private sector workforce (+17%). However, the public sector workforce has decreased (-4%) during this period.
  • Since 2010, the voluntary sector workforce has increased every year with the exception of 2011 and 2018 that saw small decreases.
  • The sector employs around 3% of the UK workforce, a proportion that hasn’t changed over the same period.

The voluntary sector workforce has grown by 11% since 2010

By size

  • Voluntary sector employees are mainly concentrated in small workplaces. 61% of voluntary sector workers in 2018 were employed in workplaces with less than 50 employees. This is similar to the private sector but markedly different to the public sector (53% and 28% respectively).
  • A quarter (25%) 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 but different to the public sector (19% and 6% respectively).

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

By location

  • A majority of voluntary sector workers are employed in England (83%). This is broadly in line with the distribution of voluntary organisations (80%) in the UK and population patterns (84%).
  • Over a third (36%) of voluntary sector workers are employed in London and the south-east. This is higher than for the public sector workforce (26%) and private sector workforce (29%).

The north east of England has seen the biggest drop in voluntary sector workers since 2010

By subsector

  • Social work is the largest single subsector with 295,311 employees, followed by education (109,932) and residential care (105,520).
  • Since 2014/15, the number of employees working in the residential care subsector has decreased every year by 3% or 4%. It is the only major subsector to have experienced a year-on-year drop over this period.

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 small number of people leaving one subsector and joining another would hardly 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.