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The changing size and scope of civil society

The latest edition of the annual UK Civil Society Almanac is now available. This annual digest using GuideStar UK data presents statistics and analysis on the size and scope of the VCS. This year, for the first time, the Almanac has expanded to contain information on all UK civil society organisations, such as co-operatives, housing associations, universities, trade unions and political parties, not only ‘general charities’.

Below are some of the key findings and trends affecting UK civil society:

  • 865,000 civil society organisations in the UK in 2005/06, with an income of £109 billion. 
  • General charities expansion has continued by almost 10% on 2004/05 to £31 billion, even higher than the UK economy (see levels and sources of VCS income.) This is likely to continue in the future with increased government emphasis on the role of the VCS in public service delivery and the expansion of enterprising activity (see social enterprise).
  • Income volatility remains a problem for many organisations, one in ten of the largest charities had large swings in income from 2003/04 – 2005/06 rising to a third of the smallest charities. This volatility and uncertainty creates an increased need for successful strategic planning.
  • Many charities are struggling financially – nearly one in five of the largest charities, rising to three out of every five of the smallest charities, decreased their expenditure between 2004/05 and 2005/06. (See polarisation of the VCS).
  • Increase in earned income - for the first time, more than half of general charities’ income is earned. This highlights the increasing importance of entrepreneurship in driving the expansion of the sector and continued blurring of boundaries. (See social enterprise).
  • Most charities receive no money from the State, though in contrast a third of organisations are heavily reliant. And half of the largest charities receive little or no income from the State, dismissing the idea that large charities are an arm of government. (See levels and sources of VCS income).
  • Local government provides the most statutory income to general charities but grant income from government has been flat for five years. However, this suggests that grants have been frozen, rather than reduced, with statutory funders choosing instead to increasinlgy channel money through contracts (see procurement practice).
  • More charities per person in wealthier areas than in less well-off areas, even when large national charities are discounted. This indicates that charities generally form where there is prosperity rather than in areas of economic disadvantage. There are 2.2 charities per thousand in multicultural communities, compared to 1 charity per thousand in blue collar communities.
  • Further analysis of the sector - the report also covers the fall in individual giving, the growing highly skilled sector workforce and the increase in formal volunteering.
  • Key facts from wider civil society - co-operatives have a combined turnover almost as large as general charities and social enterprise activity accounts for almost three quarters of the income of the entire sector. 10 % of all homes are owned by housing associations and this is likely to rise in the future as the stock transfer from local authorities continues.
  • Looking ahead - The economic uncertainty that began in 2007 will continue into 2008, with an economic slowdown and lower interests both widely predicted.  Uncertainty around the continued fall-out from the US sub-prime mortgage crisis as well as house and office space prices here in the UK will continue to adversely affect the economy.  It remains to be seen how this will affect civil society, but the difficulties at Northern Rock plc highlight the dangers.  Individuals are also less likely to give if they feel financially insecure. (See here for a discussion on the impact of the credit crunch on the VCS.)
  • The main political parties experienced wide swings in popularity in 2007 with the resurgent Tory party finishing in front. This fierce rivalry has been good for civil society, with both the main parties pledging strong support.  This support is likely to continue in 2008 as both the parties continue to see civil society as a way to ensure community development and social cohesion.  


Last updated at 11:26 Thu 13/Jan/11.
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How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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