Are time poor Australians abandoning volunteering?

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New ABS data shows volunteering rates in Australia are declining for the first time in almost 20 years with 75% of people surveyed saying they feel rushed or pressed for time.

Results of the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014 General Social Survey released yesterday 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 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?” Mr Williamson said.

“The ABS report shows that in 2014, 31% of Australians volunteered compared to 36% just four years ago.”

“The data shows Australians are increasingly time-poor with 45% of women and 36% 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.”

Mr 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.”

“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.”