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Volunteering for a Healthier Britain

There is a compelling body of medical research that finds that our social relationships have an impact on our long-term health; those people who feel lonelier, are isolated and have less support are more likely to develop issues like cardiovascular disease, dementia, depression, and even have a higher risk of death. 

The longevity of the pandemic - with various lockdowns and social distancing measures – have undoubtedly impacted on peoples’ social relationships and connections. In a similar way that COVID-19 has highlighted regional health disparities, it has also brought to light areas which lack essential social and community infrastructure to create social capital and build resilience.

Kickstarting a New Volunteer Revolution - Volunteering for a Healther Britain is the third in a series of research-led reports. This report looks to address this central question - “Could volunteering be mobilised as a way to help reduce health and social inequalities seen in deprived communities in the post-pandemic period?” 

We put forward a number of recommendations based on the evidence from this report:   

1. Recognise volunteering as a public health intervention

The evidence linking good quality social relationships and volunteering to disease and longevity is compelling. It is can no longer be ignored or considered ‘a nice to have’ but appears critical to individual and community health outcomes.  

2.  Develop partnerships between business, public and voluntary sector

Maximising the benefits of volunteering will require not only volunteer-involving organisations but businesses and public sector bodies working together. Supporting volunteering (and hence a thriving civil society) is not just the remit of the voluntary sector – it is critical to a well-functioning public and corporate sector; as the evidence demonstrates the benefits are played forward in terms of better population health and wellbeing, and hence economic productivity.  

3. Focus on those areas with underdeveloped volunteering infrastructure

As the research in this report has highlighted, in a similar way that health inequalities were exposed during the pandemic, so too were differences in geographical areas in terms of their social infrastructure and resilience. These areas should be prioritised as we look towards recovery. The difference in charity funding, and hence charitable activity are all issues which can be addressed if we work together.  

4.  Build volunteering into the levelling up agenda

The evidence we presented makes a very compelling case for the power of social relationships (and hence volunteering) to address health disparities. However, health disparities are complex and multifaceted. As the government looks to develop the levelling up agenda and ahead to the publication of the Levelling Up White paper, we need to ensure the focus of this agenda goes beyond a single focus on economic productivity. A cross-government and cross-sector strategy and approach on levelling up is need, if we truly want to build back better and ultimately fairer.  

The Volunteering for a Healthier Britain report was informed by a literature review of recent findings on social relationships/connections/groups and health over the last 10 years. This review aimed to address two questions:

  1. Exploring what the medical research tells us about social relationships and the link to health outcomes
  2. Exploring why social connections could impact on our health outcomes

The literature review was undertaken by Dr Kimberley Smith in October 2021.

Volunteering for a Healthier Britain was supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

How boosting civic participation can tackle health inequalities

Dr Kimberley Smith examines the power of volunteering to tackle one the country’s biggest challenges

Social Mobility: Unleashing the Power of Volunteering

The second Kickstarting a New Volunteer Revolution report examines the motivations, attitudes, benefits, routes and barriers to volunteering, and discusses the implications for civic life and society.

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We're always happy to share our experiences and discuss new ways we could work together in partnership in the NHS and in the community.