Australians Abandoning Volunteering?
30 June 2015 at 3:52 pm
New ABS data shows volunteering rates in Australia are declining for the first time in almost 20 years with 75 per cent of people surveyed saying they feel too rushed or pressed for time.
Results of the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014 General Social Survey provide a snapshot of Australia’s progress on aspects of wellbeing, such as life satisfaction and community participation, and reports that volunteering in Australia has fallen by five per cent since 2010.
Volunteering Australia CEO Brett Williamson said the rate of volunteering was a key indicator of healthy communities and any decline in community participation was troubling.
“It raises questions about whether our social capital is being eroded, and if it is, why is that happening and how can we reverse the trend?” Williamson said.
“The ABS report shows that in 2014, 31 per cent of Australians volunteered compared to 36 per cent just four years ago.
“The data shows Australians are increasingly time-poor with 45 per cent of women and 36 per cent of men saying they are always rushed or often pressed for time. When you’re time-poor, something has to give and for some people, it appears that is volunteering.
“Despite the drop in overall numbers volunteering, Australians continue to be altruistic and to want to support their communities. The good news is that 5.8 million Australians over the age of 15 years generously spent 743 million hours volunteering across diverse activities in 2014.
The ABS General Social Survey results reinforce how important it is to recognise and support people who give their time to help build safer and resilient communities. This is a huge contribution to our nation’s social and economic well-being.”
Williamson said the ABS results show the fall in volunteering mirrors a decline in community participation across the board generally, including sport and participation in special interest groups, such as politics and professional associations.
“Volunteering Australia commends the ABS for conducting this vital research and analysis on a regular basis,” he said.
“The ABS General Social Survey, in particular, is a key measure of wellbeing and community participation in Australia that does help inform Government and volunteering sector decisions and actions.
“The next steps are for Governments at all levels to work with and support the volunteering sector to help remove barriers to volunteering, and for the volunteering sector to find ways to make volunteering easier and more accessible for time-poor Australians, as well as those groups which are registering lower volunteering rates.
“The key is for all of us to work together to build our social capital through volunteering so we can learn to understand each other better, demonstrate our compassion and build a truly trusting, harmonious and cohesive Australian community.”
Allan McLean from the ABS, said the results from the General Social Survey present important information about volunteers in the community.
“The highest rates of volunteering were for young people aged 15-17 years (42 per cent), those aged 35-44 years (39 per cent) and older people aged 65-74 years (35 per cent),” Mclean said.
The most common type of organisations that people volunteer for are sports and physical recreation organisations (31 per cent).
Couples with children are more likely to have volunteered in the last 12 months (38 per cent) than couples without children (29 per cent) or people living alone (25 per cent).
Nearly half of the volunteers have volunteered for more than 10 years and more than two-thirds of volunteers report that at least one of their parents had also participated in voluntary work.
The most commonly reported reasons for volunteering are to help others or the community (64 per cent), for personal satisfaction (57 per cent) or to do something worthwhile (54 per cent).
“We have found volunteers contribute 743 million hours to the community across diverse activities,” McLean said.
“This equates to an average of 128 hours per volunteer in the last 12 months.
“Almost 20 per cent of volunteers performed more than 200 hours of volunteering throughout the year.”
CEO of Volunteering Tasmania Adrienne Picone said the reported decline in formal volunteering is concerning.
“However, it is worth noting that the definition of volunteering used in the ABS research differs from our definition as Tasmania’s Peak body. For example, the ABS did not collect data on digital participation, which, according to our State of Volunteering: Tasmania 2014 Report (SOVR 2014), accounts for 14 per cent of Tasmanian volunteers,” Piccone said.
“Failing to include these types of figures may not give an accurate view of the ‘newage’ of volunteering, which is starting to look quite different to the past,” she said.
“The ABS General Social Survey provides vital longitudinal volunteering data but it only records those people that do unpaid work in a not for profit organisation.
“Whilst the decline is alarming it still only captures the tip of the volunteering iceberg and doesn’t reflect the enormous number of informal time donations that are happening every day, which we recognise as volunteering,” she said.
According to the SOVR 2014, four out of five Tasmanians volunteered in 2014, donating a total of 7.1 million hours. The new ABS data states that Tasmania has the third highest rates of volunteering nationally, behind the ACT and South Australia.
“No matter what the wording of the question, and no matter which set of statistics you look at, there is no denying the importance of volunteering,” Picone said.