Scottish Household Survey 2015 findings

30 September 2016

This week saw the publication of the SHS research findings of the state of volunteering in Scotland.

The research was carried out for the Scottish Government in 2015, and can be compared with the findings from 2014, and before. The sample size was around 10,000. 

The headline figure is that volunteering participation rates are 27% of the adult population, the same as last year. There is a consistent picture over the last 5 or 6 years which supports Volunteer Scotland's thinking that there is a need for systemic change to bring about a healthy growth.

Having said that, the 'body language' of the findings is signalling some interesting things about what's happening under the surface.


We've always known that in more rural areas there is a higher volunteer rate. In remote rural areas you are 33% more likely to volunteer than in a large urban area. The details tells us that the main reason for this is that 1 out of 3 of those are volunteering within a local or neighbourhood group, compared to only 1 in 8 in large urban areas.  I think this is very significant. There is a key link between volunteer activity and community building and l'll return to this in more depth next time.

Urban areas are not always behind. Another observation is that there has been a marked increase in volunteering in political matters.

Combining volunteering in justice and human rights, political groups, and Trades Union activity there has been a collective rise from 10% to 17%. It's difficult to work out just how significant this in terms of actual numbers but the clear signal is there.  I think this is a positive bounce effect from the independence referendum in 2014, and an increase in political engagement in working class areas. 

This interest in social justice in large urban areas is also combined with a softer side such as an increased concern for the elderly. Large urban areas saw the biggest increase in volunteering for elderly organisations up from 8% in 2014 to 15% in 2015. The whole country saw an increase from 9% to 13% which is very heartening.

There's a clear finding about the "body language" of women compared to men. A clear gap has opened up and a woman is now 25% more likely to volunteer than a man (30% female to 24% male). This is new, and Volunteer Scotland is looking closely at analysing this along with other research, and we'll share this with you.

The body language of exclusion remains depressingly persistent. A person earning over £40,000 is 85% more likely to volunteer than someone earning less than £10,000. This is not the responsibility of the better off person, it's our collective responsibility to change the current mindset which is dominated by the language of scarcity. "You can't get volunteers like before". "People are more selfish " etc.

The language of abundance is what we need. People from all backgrounds and experiences have a universal need to give time to the community good, and we have to unlock this human potential for good.The body language needs to be expressed in the collective body of people in a movement that works in a contested space about what's important to us, what we value most and how we express our values through the action of volunteering.

If we can achieve this, then I believe that in future years the volunteer participation rates of the Scottish Household Survey will rise and that it becomes the norm to be helping out in our communities, understanding the world around us, and being actors for change.

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