This report attempts to measure the value of charities to British households in a uniquely holistic way, by estimating the overall impact of all the charitable services that a family accesses.

It is common for individual charities to set out in their annual reports their value to their target beneficiaries and overall measures of service efficiency and cost effectiveness. These reports can provide a good picture of individual charities, but are less helpful as a guide to the impact of the sector as a whole. Similarly, there is good data on the scale of the sector and the value of charitable giving, but a much less comprehensive picture of the way in which we collectively use and benefit from the wide range of charities that exist.

The value of charity to different individuals will naturally vary greatly according to their circumstances. In order to understand this variation, IPPR North and the Charities Aid Foundation carried out a new online poll and a number of case study interviews.

Our poll findings make plain the need to broaden the way in which we evaluate the impact of the charitable sector. It is clear that traditional measurements – usually focused on evaluation of a single charity, or single type of charity – do not capture all the ways in which households are benefiting from their use of the charity sector as a whole, nor the variation in how different household types experience charity use.

  • More than nine of every 10 households (93 per cent) have used at least one charitable service at some time in the past, with nearly four-fifths (79 per cent) having used a service in the last 12 months and half (51 per cent) in the last month.
  • Among those who say they have used or accessed charities within the last 12 months, many are using more than one type of charity – an average of three different services in the past year.
  • Families with older children are most likely to have used a charitable service within the last 12 months, however use of multiple services is highest among young single adult households.
  • Those households that are using charities the most – families with older children – are most likely to see them as making a difference to their lives (64 per cent). A third of lone parents consider the charity services that they receive as central to their lives, and say they would struggle without them.

To illuminate these findings further, we conducted a series of case study interviews with families of different household types (single/couple, older/younger/no children) to assess the overall impact of the charitable services they have accessed. Using the Wellbeing Valuation methodology, this overall impact is translated into a monetary value. In our study, this ranged from £2,000 to £36,000 a year, depending on individual cirumstances, the type of services used and the frequency of access.

Understanding the overall impact of charities – in combination with other service providers – on particular types of household using 'social value' measurements is a new and relatively untested field of inquiry. It would be fruitful for the methodology developed in this study to be used more widely and tested more rigorously. Nonetheless, it is important that this value is recognised, not only by the general public who continue to give their time and money generously, but also by government in the policies it sets and the support it offers to the charitable sector in the years to come.