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The RSA, an independent organization committed to enriching society through ideas and action, has today backed calls by health chief Sir Thomas Hughes Hallet, for a ‘volunteer army’ of health workers, but warned that deprived areas may miss out with volunteering currently more prevalent in wealthier areas of the country.

Published today, Volunteering and Public Services said that polling for the Royal Voluntary Service in 2015 found that over a third of Britons (37 per cent) are ‘planning or considering volunteering in some capacity to help the NHS’.

The report said that Simon Stevens’ Five Year Forward View for the NHS locates much of the energy for sustainable health and social care systems in volunteers and that by expanding formal and informal volunteering, local public services have an opportunity to promote well-being and social change.

The RSA warned, however, that some areas are punching below their weight in terms of encouraging volunteering.  Deprivation matters, but factors such as age, rurality, health, faith, ethnicity and educational level also have a big influence on the likelihood of volunteering.

Using data from the ‘English Indices of Multiple Deprivation’ and the ‘Place Survey’ in an interactive map ( the RSA illustrates the relationship between deprivation and volunteering.  The RSA found that:

  • Sunderland’s volunteering level is six per cent below what would be expected
  • Hackney and Islington, among the most deprived boroughs in London, actually show rates of volunteering higher than the capital’s average.
  • Liverpool has rates above what its levels of deprivation would predict, while rates in the Wirral and Bootle fall short. 
  • Cornwall is among the highest third of authorities in terms of deprivation, yet scores among the top five per cent for volunteering.
  • Trends are not uniform. Parts of the West Midlands bordering Wales score highly and whereas other authorities north of Birmingham and many parts of the East Midlands have low levels compared to affluence.
  • Regions such as the Lake District and Scarborough and the eastern areas of Norfolk and Suffolk attract high volunteering levels.

Sir Thomas, Chair of the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, this week said his comments were prompted by the vital need to support the elderly outside of the formal health system.

Today’s RSA report concluded that: “We are a society that is living longer and living with more complex illness and impairments, putting heavy demands on medical resources. We therefore need to look outside the clinic and the hospital and focus on the personal and social conditions in which individuals, families and communities can manage their health successfully”.

Deputy Director Public Services and Communities at the RSA Paul Buddery said:

“More and more public services are enlisting volunteers. Our new report calls on councils and their partners to be ambitious and co-ordinated, and to see public service volunteering not simply as a way of cutting costs, but as an opportunity to embed citizen participation into everything they do.”

The report recommends:

  • Local public services to be judged by the degree to which they are successful in enabling people to meet their own needs, individually and collectively. 
  • Public services should, as a matter of course, track and report on the voluntary contributions of communities and service users as key factors in increasing their productivity. 
  • Volunteers should have the right to have their voices heard in designing how those service operate.

Today’s report forms part of the RSA’s People Shaped Localism programme – a series of events and reports looking at how localism can enable a shift in power to people and communities as devolution and austerity begin to shift the structures of local government and local services.

‘Localism' - the devolution of power from national government to local government - should involve local people and communities, the RSA said. 'People shaped' means this shift of power should not repeat old patterns laid down by central government but should instead be determined by the character, identity, needs and assets of a particular place and the people that live there.

Notes to editors

  1. For more information contact RSA Interim Head of Media Sarah Horner on 020 7451 6893 or
  2. The ‘English Indices of Multiple Deprivation’ and the Place Survey took place in each local authority and  gauged how people felt about things like belonging, safety etc. and included a question about helping out -volunteering).
  3. The report comes from a three year learning partnership with Wiltshire Council. 'Volunteering' is first in the programme because the RSA believes that localism should start with the citizen and the community. The resources, reports and tools are therefore designed to be accessible and helpful to a wide range of people – interested citizens, community groups, social entrepreneurs, business leaders and community activists, alongside and as well as local authority leaders, officers, practitioners and decision makers.


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