30th November 2022

Cost of Living and Volunteering: Policy Briefings

In September this year we launched a research report, Testing our Resilience, which explored the potential impact of the cost of living crisis on volunteering. It was a sobering read, and highlighted the potentially devasting impact of the crisis on both volunteers and the organisations that they support.

Since then, further evidence has emerged that volunteer participation is in decline. Less people are volunteering because they no longer have the time, they are experiencing practical barriers such as the cost of travel, or because of challenges with their mental health. Many volunteers are fatigued as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the ongoing proliferation of negative news – contributing to a sense of ‘permacrisis’ – is causing apathy. As a result, 35% of organisations have recently reported that volunteer shortages is one of their top three challenges. This is potentially devastating for organisations which rely on volunteers to deliver their services, and for the wider resilience of Scotland’s communities.

There is also increasing evidence about the challenges facing volunteer involving organisations, who are experiencing a ‘perfect storm’ of increased demand for services, rising operational costs and, for some, stagnating or decreasing income. Add volunteer shortages into the mix and that ‘perfect storm’ becomes a full-blown hurricane.

It is clear that volunteering is under considerable threat from the current cost of living crisis and the implications of this cannot be understated. In 2018, volunteering was worth £5.5 billion to Scotland’s economy. Even a 5% decline in volunteering would equate to a £275 million loss to the economy

We have also become increasingly concerned about reports of organisations experiencing pressure to change volunteer roles so that they incorporate tasks previously undertaken by paid staff, largely as a result of cuts to staff shortages in the public sector. This exploits volunteers and undermines the sustainability of vital public sector roles.

As a result of this alarming evidence, we are taking steps to ensure that our elected representatives fully understand the potential impact for Scotland’s communities. It is vital that we are able to realise the ambitions set out in the Volunteering Action Plan, published by the Scottish Government earlier this year, to develop and deliver volunteering that is truly for all. We cannot let the ‘perfect storm’ created by the cost of living crisis blow us off course.

Today our Policy Officer, Sarah Latto, is in Westminster with a colleague from SCVO delivering a briefing to MPs from Scottish constituencies about the situation, and asking for their support in influencing the UK Government.

We are also sending a letter signed by a range of partners to Shona Robison MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities in the Scottish Government, sharing our concerns about the impact of the cost of living crisis on volunteering. We are also sharing 4 key asks of the Cabinet Secretary which would help to limit the impact.