People likely to benefit most from volunteering are the least likely to get involved.
In its new report The Benefits of Making a Contribution to Your Community in Later Life , Ageing Better found that people aged 50 with fewer social connections, lower levels of income and education, and poorer health may have the most to gain from helping others. However, the people who are most likely to volunteer are those who are already relatively wealthy, in good physical and mental health, and with high levels of wellbeing and social connections. People who could benefit most from developing new friends and increasing their sense of purpose and satisfaction in later life are losing out, because they are less likely to get involved.
Funders and organisations working with volunteers need to address this gap and make it easier for these people to take part. The Government’s recently-announced £4 million funding to boost volunteering in people aged 50 and over is one opportunity to tackle this.
There is evidence of a ‘volunteering divide’ in later life. People aged 50 and over are more likely than younger people to be highly committed to voluntary activity. Indeed, they are responsible for approximately 40 per cent of all the volunteering, charitable giving and civic participation in the UK. But conversely this age group are also more likely than others not to make any contributions at all, with a large proportion completely disengaged.
Dan Jones, Director of Innovation and Change at the Centre for Ageing Better, one of the report’s authors, said:
“Organisations that support volunteering should be confident that participation does make a difference in terms of wellbeing and increased social connections in later life, especially for people who are less well connected and active now. Funders should put more resource into volunteering schemes that would benefit those people most and meet the costs of supporting them to participate.
“But whilst volunteering is great for both individuals and society, it is not a miracle cure and there is no strong evidence that it increases employability, or addresses social isolation or frailty.”
Analysis of existing evidence suggests that volunteering alone is insufficient to impact on more serious issues such as social isolation or long-term health conditions.
The findings come from a literature review conducted by Ageing Better into the benefits of contributing to your community in later life. The charitable foundation carried out the analysis as part of its aim to support more people in later life to take up opportunities to contribute their skills, knowledge and experience to their communities. Voluntary activities, formal civic roles and neighbourly acts can all contribute significantly to personal wellbeing and create stronger social connections.
Ageing Better wants to find effective ways to tackle the barriers that older people can face in giving their time and talents to help others, and ensure that any activities they undertake deliver the maximum benefits for them.