Third sector staff

The third sector, also called voluntary sector, covers all social activities offered by non-profit and non-governmental organisations. Especially in terms of social care the third sector has a key role in many European countries. According to a study from 2010, adult social care services in the United Kingdom are arranged as follows: 75% private sector, 17% third sector and 8% public sector[1]. In 2009 870,000 civil society organisations were counted and 634,000 people were employed in voluntary and community organisations, representing 2.2 per cent of the workforce[2]. The sector is still growing strongly and is becoming increasingly important for the society and for health and social care provision.

In the SmartCare pilot regions third sector organisations tend to play – depending on the structural characteristic of the given health and social care systems - a more or less strong role in care delivery as well. The organisations providing care and support to older people include for instance self help groups, charity organizations and social enterprises. These may employ paid staff and/or rely on volunteers as well.

Ascribing values and characteristics to third sector organisations collectively is challenging. Oftentimes the sector is regarded as an entity. But in practice the third sector is not a homogeneous unit. The organisations are more likely to associate with subsectors – such as advice agencies, medical charities or housing associations – than any over-arching entity. Therefore, one of the faced challenges is the difficulty of developing and delivering support and guidance for such a varying community. In practice it is nearly impossible for policy-makers to please everyone[3].

The diversity and independence of the third sector implies both weaknesses and strengths. The organisations can provide excellent service - but there may be problems with the distribution, accessibility and inclusiveness of these services. Excellent organisations may exist only in some service fields or local areas, but not in every case and everywhere. While the current clients know how to contact the organisations, there is no guarantee that all potential users will be able to find information about them[4].

[1] Helen Dickinson, K. A., Pete Alcock, Rob Macmillan, Jon Glasby (2012). The Role of the Third Sector in Delivering Social Care. London, School for Social Care Research.


[2] Hopkins, L. (2010). Mapping the Third Sector: A context for social leadership. London, The Work Foundation.


[3] Alcock, P. (2013). A New Role for the Third Sector. Public Services: A New Reform Agenda. G. Simon, Henry Kippin & Gerry Stoker.


[4] Ibid.