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Research reveals a nation of helpers

Charity work and volunteering Australia-wide is worth an estimated $16 billion a year, researchers say.

Yet more telling is that informal gestures of kindness like minding a neighbour’s children, lending emotional support to a colleague or pitching in to get a mate’s yard cleared amounts to almost as much.

The Help Economy, a new report launched by NRMA Insurance, values all unpaid help provided to families, friends and communities by Australians in 2020 at $30 billion.

Utilising analysis by accounting giant PwC Australia, the survey of more than 2000 respondents calculated 31 million acts of help were performed across the nation during the year.

However with lockdowns and disasters making 2020 such a difficult time for people to lend a hand outside their own households, it may be that a return to normal will see the help economy worth up to $43.5 billion.

As the nation recovers from the emotional and financial impacts of the pandemic, fires and floods, 74 per cent of those who participated in the study said they believed now more than ever there is a need to help others.

Unfortunately though, 42 per cent said they weren’t able to provide as much help as they would have liked in 2020 primarily due to COVID.

Even so, NRMA Safer Communities boss Ramana James believes making good on offers of help has become the backbone of the nation’s communities.

“Helping a friend or neighbour has never been more important,” he said.

“While pandemic restrictions have made helping harder, there’s still plenty you can do, like signing up to volunteer or dropping over a cooked meal to a friend or family member to make their day easier.”

The Help Economy reveals emotional support as the most common informal help provided last year by 4.6 million people, valued at $3.3 billion.

Next were teaching and advice (2.4 million people and $2.4 billion), domestic work (4.3 million and $2 billion) and unpaid childcare (2.4 million and $1.9 billion).

PwC chief economist Jeremy Thorpe says national conversations around economic activity usually focus on GDP, which only counts goods and services that are bought and sold.

“The most used measure of our economic welfare ignores the value generated by formal volunteering and informal help,” he said.

“This undervalues the benefits of less formal, non-traded activities. The Help Economy report is placing real value on help and will enable us to track the economic value of such everyday kindness and goodwill.”

The report also uncovered the different ways people help across the country.

Acts of formal help were larger than informal by 14 per cent ($16 billion versus $14 billion).

Queensland was an exception, with its informal help economy ($2.8 billion) 22 per cent larger than the formal ($2.3 billion).

Queenslanders were more likely to provide domestic assistance, including DIY maintenance and gardening, as well as running errands.

In NSW, the informal help economy ($4.5 billion) was 21 per cent smaller than the formal ($5.7 billion).

Victoria’s informal economy ($4.4 billion) was 57 per cent larger than its formal ($2.8 billion), likely due to three major COVID-19 lockdowns.

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