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There are different estimates for the size, income and activities of the voluntary sector. The latest Charity Register data for the year ending 31 December 2016, suggests that there were over 167,100 Charities in England and Wales.

According to the latest NCVO data for 2014/15, there were around 140,500 voluntary organisations in England and Wales and around 165,800 in the UK. Alternatively, the Charity Commission’s data for year ending December 2015, indicated just under 165,300 organizations in England and Wales (Please refer to Section 1 for explanation of this disparity).  

Voluntary sector activities

In 2014/15, the most common activity of UK voluntary organisations was the provision of social services (18%), followed by cultural and recreational services (14%) and religious activities (9%), according to the NCVO.

Total income

In 2016 the estimated income of the UK voluntary sector was £73.1 billion, according to the Charity Commission. Charities earning over £5 million accounted for 1.3% of organisations and for 72% of total income. While just 39% of charities earned less than £10,000 per annum.

Alternatively, according to the NCVO the estimated income of the UK voluntary sector was £45.5 billion in 2014/15. Earned income contributed 54% of this total, voluntary income 39% and investments 7%. Total income rose in real terms between 2001/02 and 2014/15.

Government support

In 2014/15, income from central government was higher than from local government for the first time in over a decade. Total Income from government was £15.3 billion in 2014/15, of which 48% from central government, 47% from local government and 6% from international government (NCVO data).

Social investment

In the year ending 31 December 2015, Big Society Capital estimated that social investment market in: “the UK is worth at least £1,500m”.

National Lottery funding

In 2016/17, the National Lottery Distribution Fund granted approximately £351 million (19%) to the Arts, around £481 million (21%) to Sports, £425 million (23%) to the Heritage Lottery Fund and £669 million (37%) to the Big Lottery Fund.

Charitable giving

Community Life Survey data for 2015/16 shows that 73% of adults in England had given to charity in the four weeks prior to survey. Of those 17.4% had given less than £4 and 13.5% over £50. Around £7.6 billion was received from donations, gifts and legacies by the UK voluntary sector in 2015/16.


In 2015/16, the most active age group was 16 to 25 year olds, of which 44% and 32% participated in formal and informal volunteering at least once a month respectively. Formal volunteering was the least common among 26 to 34 year olds (21%). Just 29% of 50 to 65 year olds volunteered informally.

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