Latest survey deepens our understanding of volunteering in Scotland

5 September 2016

The Social Research unit of the Scottish Government have released the results of the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2015. This year's survey adds to our understanding of the factors influencing civic and volunteering participation. 

Social Research LogoThe Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (2015) is an annual survey which explores the level of Social Capital in Scotland. This is a robust survey involving as it does 1,288 face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of over-18s in Scotland.

The survey defined the level of Social Capital through 3 main questions posed to individuals:

  1. Belonging to my local area. "Some people feel like they belong to their local area, others do not. To what extent do you feel like you belong to your local area"?
  2. People I can turn to. "To what extent people agree or disagree that 'I feel that there are people in this area I could turn to for support and advice'"?
  3. Social network. "How often, if at all, do you meet socially with friends, relatives, neighbours or work colleagues"?

While the results of the survey are far reaching we are particularly interested in the findings and implications for volunteer participation. 

Key findings from a volunteering perspective 

The survey asked 'whether people have given up some of their time in the last few years to do any of the things listed to help improve their local area',

  • 35% 'volunteered or helped out at a local community organisation or charity (e.g. a youth club, community cafe or charity supporting older people)'
  • 17% 'helped to organise a community event (e.g. a street party or fundraising event)' 
  • 11% 'tried to stop something happening in my local area (e.g. a new business that you object to or the closure of a local service)'
  • 3% 'tried to set up a local community organisation'
  • 1% 'other'
  • 54% 'no have not done any of these'  

The survey puts any participation in volunteering or community activity at around 46% (100% minus 54%). Unlike the Scottish Household Survey 2015 (SHS) it defines the timescale for involvement as over the last few years rather than the last 12 months. However, it is important to note that this finding broadly equates to the summed 51% from the SHS who either volunteer now (27%) or stopped volunteering more than 12 months ago (24%).

The survey indicates those factors which immediately appear significant to increased levels of volunteering and community activity (with some relatively more important):

  • Having higher levels of education attainment
  • Gender (where females are more involved than males)
  • Living in a rural location 
  • Having lower levels of deprivation 
  • Being more trusting (measured as general views on whether people can be trusted).

The importance of Trust 

While most of the aforementioned factors (education, urban/rural, relative deprivation even gender differences to an extent) are similarly supported by the SHS and also our work into volunteering participation in Scotland (opens as a pdf), one factor which is less well understood is that of 'trust'.

Furthermore, this survey tells us that the presence of trust is also related to both a heightened feeling of belonging to a  local area and the perception that there are people there to turn to.

All of which would seem to offer sensible explanation for higher levels of volunteering and community activity. In places where trust in others is higher and there are people to turn to, why would we be surprised if individuals are more likely to reciprocate? This link between volunteering and trust in others is similarly supported by a recent study based on the European Social Survey (Glanville, Paxton & Wang) published in 2015. 

Whilst, 2 from 3 of the core components defined as Social Capital would appear to be present and influential in volunteering or community activity, one factor would seem to be absent. The social network (the range and frequency of contact with others) is apparently (and somewhat surprisingly) found to be unrelated. Afterall, most volunteer through their social networks (and through being asked). Glanville, Paxton & Wang (2015) also found 'social ties' to be less significant as a predictor of formal volunteering but significant when combined with higher levels of trust.  

Areas to explore

Questions are raised around the interplay between factors of Social Capital. Furthermore, as we understand more of the structural factors predicting higher levels of community and volunteering activity (such as age - gender - income - location), understanding more fully the linkages between social capital and these factors becomes ever more critical.   

In summary, this is a very useful study and a welcome addition to our base of knowledge around volunteering participation. Particularly in the context of an apparent flat-lining or even decline in the overall participation rate in Scotland but also in helping to explain the differences in volunteering rates at a local authority level.

We'll continue to provide more of our own views on this subject over the next period.

In the meantime, we'd be very interested in any comments you have. 

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