old map of London

Social capital: Charities and the London Mayor

On Thursday, the people of London will elect a new Mayor. Voters will have many things on their minds as they decide how to cast their vote, but somewhere in the mix should be the health of civil society.

This sector touches profoundly on how Londoners experience their lives, from visiting museums to using charities to feed themselves or to get help with mental health. As well as styling itself as a centre of business and commerce, London enjoys its reputation for hosting diverse, supportive communities.

While the factors that drive the health of civil society are wide-ranging, the Mayor can—by influencing economic growth in London, planning transport, and through their advocacy for chosen issues—play an important part. We have, for example, seen Olympics ‘games makers’ create a big increase in London volunteering—for a period at least.

For this reason, NPC has looked at data covering one small slice of life in the capital: how did the number of charities serving London change during the years Boris Johnson was Mayor of London? And how does this compare with trends across England and Wales over the same period?

NPC has analysed Charity Commission data on this, which threw up some intriguing figures. They show that the number of charities serving London went up by nearly 2,500 over 2008–2016, to reach 19,441 (a 15% rise). By contrast, in England and Wales the total number of charities dropped slightly (by around 2%).

For a bit of extra context, this growth in London charities is quicker even than its population, which the GLA projects to rise by 11% between 2008 and 2016.

Numbers can’t tell us everything, of course. Depending on your point of view, this might indicate that London’s voluntary sector is growing and thriving. But the numbers might equally be taken as a response to rising demand, as London’s citizens struggle under the pressure of lower public spending and shortages.

With election day almost upon us, we know that the charity sector expanded in London during the Boris years, and bucked the trend which saw charities numbers across England and Wales fall. Voluntary bodies have always been an important part of the fabric of life in the capital, and it seems they have been growing.


Notes on the data

The figures we’ve analysed from the Charity Commission paint a good picture of what’s going on in London, but data around charities is never simple.

NPC has included all data on registrations and removals from the Charity Commission register, but it should be noted that a charity can be removed from the register for a variety of reasons other than closing down (such as transferring funds to another organisation or changing legal status).

NPC’s numbers differ from those in NCVO’s excellent annual Almanac, the main source of data on UK charities. We use ‘area of operation’ to identify London charities, rather than where charities are headquartered, and our analysis is based on England and Wales, whereas the Almanac is based on England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. NPC has also included all organisations on the Charity Commission register, whereas the Almanac excludes a range of organisations, such as housing associations and NHS charities.

Finally, NPC’s data refers to main charities only, and does not include their subsidiaries. There are 1,119 charities on the register that were registered or removed in this time, but have missing data for their area of operation.