We know that the social sector plays a vital role in the wellbeing of our country. It also plays a vital role in our economy. But currently, we know very little about the scale or nature of that contribution.

National accounts - the statistics which describe the size and nature of a country’s economy - don’t allow us to identify the specific contribution of the social sector or volunteers. Spread across industrial codes (like health & social care, education and arts), merged with business entities in these fields, and allocated across different sections of the national accounts, non-profit organisations are impossible to identify in economic statistics at present.

Meanwhile, most volunteering work isn’t counted in national accounts at all.

So while we know that manufacturing accounts for 8% of the UK workforce and agriculture accounts for 0.6% gross value added to the UK economy – we have no equivalent ONS figures for the social economy and volunteering sector.

Similarly, we have no idea what proportion of different industries, like education or health & social care, are made up of non-profit organisations, nor how much of the employment in each industry depends on a thriving non-profit sector. And we have little grasp of how much value volunteering brings to our economy each year.

This is a serious oversight. Evidence from other countries shows that the non-profit and volunteering sector is a substantial economic contributor. It often represents one of the largest workforces of any industry, and accounts for around 5% of GDP. Without information on its size and health, policymakers cannot make informed decisions about a significant and sizeable part of our economy.

Developing transparent, credible and internationally comparable data on the economic and employment contribution of the sector would allow policy-makers and researchers to:

  • Make evidence-based policy decisions about the social economy and volunteering in the UK, and in doing so support the country’s economic growth, employment levels and social outcomes more broadly.
  • Understand the economic value of the non-profit, social enterprise and volunteering sector, including how it compares to other industries and what proportion of employment in different industries depends on a thriving non-profit sector.
  • Assess how the UK’s non-profit sector stacks up internationally, which is key as there are suspicions that the UK’s non-profit sector is one of its competitive global strengths.

Fortunately, much of the data we need to establish these metrics already exists. It is sitting in the data sets that are used to build our national accounts. But without committing analytical resource to tagging non-profit organisations within it, we will never know how important the non-profit sector is to our economy. Meanwhile, more accurate data about the non-profit sector workforce including volunteers could be collected through some brief additions to the Labour Force Survey.

The introduction of a “TSE Satellite Account” in the UK would, for the first time, bring together the economic and employment contribution of the wide range of non-profit organisations and volunteering activities, with parity to that afforded other industries.

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