• Lack of strong social relationships impacts mental and physical health
  • 36% living in poorest areas have no one to call on  
  • Pandemic volunteers report health improvements - bucking ONS national trends
  • New report calls for volunteering to be recognised as a public health intervention and built into the levelling up agenda

People in the country’s most deprived neighbourhoods have borne the brunt of reduced social interaction during the ongoing pandemic, paying the price in poorer mental and physical health.

The Royal Voluntary Service report, Volunteering for a Healthier Britain, co-authored by Dr Allison Smith, Head of Research for Royal Voluntary Service and Dr Kimberley Smith, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Health Psychology at the University of Surrey, finds those who have supported the civic response to the pandemic have fared better.

Download Volunteering for a Healthier Britain

The data, based on an analysis of 2,500 UK adults, identified more than a third (36%) of those in the most deprived areas have few if any people to call on for company. The report also reveals that 1 in 3 (34%) people in the most deprived areas of the country feel lonely. They are twice as likely than those living in more affluent areas to say their mental and physical health is much worse than pre pandemic.

However, the study identified that volunteering can be a protective factor and could be a powerful tool to help address health inequalities.

 “A civic minded nation is a happier and healthier nation. By encouraging and supporting volunteering in communities we can improve the lives of millions of people. No more so than in our most deprived communities.”

Catherine Johnstone CBE, Chief Executive of Royal Voluntary Service

People who volunteered in the most deprived areas had dramatically improved scores compared to those who didn’t volunteer for mental health (21% versus 13%), physical health (28% versus 14%) and general wellbeing (23% versus 13%). They were also considerably more likely to chat with their neighbours, socialise more and to gain confidence.

The findings reinforce the London School of Economics’ analysis of the NHS Volunteer Responders programme (April 2021) – that volunteering was a driver for significantly higher wellbeing scores, as well as greater feelings of social connectedness and belonging compared to those who did not volunteer.

 “The pandemic has revealed significant regional health disparities and exacerbated poor health with those in the poorest communities suffering disproportionately. Part of the solution in reversing these trends is capitalising on the resurgence of civic participation.”

Dr Kimberley Smith, Senior Lecturer in Clinical Health Psychology at the University of Surrey

“Supporting social connections is at the heart of tackling health inequalities. Our new report makes clear the ways volunteering can improve wellbeing and our sense of belonging. Making volunteering a key part of the recovery will help us build back a fairer and healthier society. It is a driver for health and happiness which will in turn support economic productivity.”

Catherine Johnstone CBE, Chief Executive of Royal Voluntary Service

The report sets out several recommendations arguing for volunteering to be recognised as a public health intervention, for partnerships to be developed between businesses, public and voluntary sectors, for a focus on those areas with underdeveloped volunteering infrastructure and for volunteering to be built into the government’s levelling up ambitions.

Volunteering for a Healthier Britain is the third report our Kickstarting a New Volunteer Revolution series - See other research reports from Royal Voluntary Service in our research & policy work section. 

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