Volunteer Scotland logo

12th January 2023

Cost of Living Crisis: The Hard Facts

Matthew Linning, Head of Research and Evaluation at Volunteer Scotland, discusses new evidence on the impact of the cost of living crisis on volunteering.

How quickly time flies when you are absorbed in helping to tackle a major crisis. It will soon be a year since the cost of living crisis started to bite, with extensive collateral damage to people, organisations and communities. Our ‘Testing our Resilience’ report in September 2022 suggested that it was going to be a drawn-out crisis and this is proving to be the case. We are still in the early stages and we need to brace ourselves for the challenges that lie ahead in 2023 and beyond.                  

By now we should all be well versed on the adverse impacts of the crisis on people’s health and wellbeing and the financial pressures they are facing. Also, the ‘perfect storm’ of increased demand for services, higher costs and reduced income which Third Sector Organisations (TSOs) are having to weather has been well publicised. However, it’s helpful to ground these issues in some hard facts. For example, did you know how widespread the adverse impacts on Scottish adults (aged 18+) have been?  The cost of living crisis has contributed to:

  • Poorer mental health for nearly half of all adults in Scotland (48%)
  • Adults spending less time connecting with others (39%)
  • Deterioration in adults’ physical health (33%)

What is even more worrying are the contributory factors cited by those adults reporting poorer physical and mental health due to the crisis:

  • Living in a cold house (49% of adults who reported poorer health)
  • Less healthy/varied diet (33% ditto)
  • Can’t afford leisure activities (49% ditto)

These alarming statistics are highlighted in Volunteer Scotland’s latest publication: The cost of living crisis – Quarterly Bulletin No. 1’. Drawing upon time series data from the Scottish Government’s YouGov Tracker, and The Scottish Third Sector Tracker, we have monitored trends in key impact indicators and the effect this is having on volunteering and volunteers. Our analysis has confirmed the following:

  • The crisis is not affecting people equally – younger adults, social grades D and E, and the grouping of ‘students, the unemployed, those not working, other’, are being disproportionately affected.
  • Volunteers’ own health and wellbeing is at risk – volunteers’ health and wellbeing may be even more susceptible, especially if they are undertaking demanding volunteer roles, and juggling their volunteering contribution with work, caring responsibilities, etc.
  • Recovery from COVID-19 has been compromised – the cost of living crisis has extended the problems experienced during COVID-19. For example, the proportion of Scottish adults reporting ‘high’ levels of anxiety has remained remarkably steady at c. 36% – 40% since May 2020.
  • Increased demand for services driven by societal needs – the increase in demand for core services and activities experienced by two thirds of TSOs is likely to increase the demand for volunteers.
  • Volunteer shortages is the single biggest issue facing TSOs – this is most likely due to a combination of increased demand for services, and a contraction in volunteer supply due to time/cost constraints.
  • Less resource to manage and support volunteers – staffing issues/shortages are highlighted as the second single biggest issue facing TSOs. This will put increased pressure on the resources dedicated to volunteer management and support by TSOs.
  • Volunteers replacing paid roles – the potential for role substitution as organisations try to maintain service delivery in the face of a contraction in paid roles is of concern and must be highlighted as a potential threat to volunteering.

This evidence helps to validate the projected impacts discussed in ‘Testing our Resilience’. It also strengthens the case underpinning the ‘Top Ten Areas for Action’. We plan to issue further Quarterly Bulletins in spring and summer 2023.

Volunteer Scotland would welcome your views to help inform our ongoing research and the work of the Cost of Living Task Group, part of the rollout of Scotland’s Volunteering Action Plan.