05Unmet need II: The geography of charitable organisations

The geography of giving is only one side of the coin when considering whether the geography of need is met. The other side is the ‘supply’ of charitable organisations that individuals can donate to. These represent the infrastructure, facilitated by donations, that is needed to deliver local change. Understanding the distribution of these organisations gives important context as to whether there are additional constraints to charitable giving meeting local need.

It seems that the geography of charitable organisations also does not align with the geography of local need. There is a higher density of charities in the less deprived Greater South East. Even when considering local charities with causes focused on local need, there is a lower concentration in more deprived areas outside the South. Impact on levelling up the UK is therefore limited, as deprived areas do not have the charities to align local donations with local need.

Charitable organisations are not evenly distributed across the UK

There are a total of 137,000 charities in the NCVO General Charities Register in England & Wales. These charities are disproportionately concentrated in the South (Figure 16).31

Figure 16: The South has a disproportionate share of charities relative to its population

Source: NCVO 2023; ONS 2023

The geography of ‘charity density’ is apparent from Figure 17, ranging from 0.8 charities per 1,000 people in Wigan to 4.6 in Oxford.32 There is a clear North/South divide, particularly seen in the low charity density in northern cities, with York the exception.33

Figure 17: Charity density is higher in southern cities, with a few exceptions

Source: NCVO 2023; ONS 2023

Note: Data for Scottish and Northern Irish cities not available

The distribution of charitable organisations in the UK doesn’t match the geography of need

The geography of charitable organisations in the UK is concentrated in the South. But many of these will have national or international causes, and so are less relevant for indicating whether local need is met. The rest of this section therefore uses the Charity Commission Register to focus on local charities and the types of causes they support, in order to explore how the geography of local charitable organisations relates to the geography of need.

Just like the types of causes donated to (Figure 15), the distribution of causes of local charities across the country does not seem to be particularly sensitive to local need. Figure 18 shows London has the highest proportion of charities dedicated to poverty-related causes, despite having the lowest deprivation of all regions (Figure 12). Wales has more local charities supporting animal welfare and the environment than those preventing or alleviating poverty.

Figure 18: Local charities with poverty-related causes are most abundant in London, the region with the lowest rates of deprivation

Source: Charity Commission Register 2023. Notes: Categories of causes based aggregated classifications from the register. Charities can report multiple classifications

Next is to drill down to the city level and see how the distribution of charitable organisations relates to need at smaller geographies.34 To focus analysis, this looks at density of charities with causes specifically focused on local need.35

But even this level, charities specifically focused on local economic needs are less concentrated in the areas that need them most, as Figure 19 demonstrates. There are lower densities of these charities in areas of cities with high income deprivation levels, such as Blackpool, Middlesborough, and the suburbs of Liverpool.36

Figure 19: Areas of cities with higher income deprivation have lower concentrations of charities focused on local needs

Source: Charities Commission Register 2023; ONS 2021. Note: Each point is one LA within PUAs in England and Wales. Northampton omitted due to PUA boundary changes

This finding echoes existing literature. NPC research shows there are 28 per cent fewer charities per 1,000 people in Levelling Up Fund Priority One areas, compared to the lowest priority areas.37 Not only are fewer charities being set up in more deprived areas, but they also have a lower survival rate.38 NCVO Almanac data also shows lower formal volunteering rates in more deprived areas. This lack of infrastructure on the ground in high need areas is doubly important, as it also inhibits national charities’ ability to deliver funding to these areas from the rest of the country.

As with charitable donations to local causes, the geography of charitable organisations does not in general reflect the geography of need. Instead, the distribution of charitable activity across the country reflects an area’s ability to give, as the following section summarises.


  • 31 This is a well-established finding in previous literature: e.g., Corry D (2020), Where are England’s Charities?, NPC
  • 32 Oxford has a particularly high number of education and training charities, likely related to the university
  • 33 Charity density is not the whole story. High charity density could simply indicate a higher volume of smaller charities in the South. In fact, the opposite is true – in England and Wales, more charity-dense cities also have larger charities (in terms of income). Oxford (the most charity-dense city) has 39 per cent of charities with annual incomes above £100,000, compared to 21 per cent in Wigan. This holds for the very largest charities – the Greater South East contains two thirds of all charities with incomes over £10 million, and 52 of the 60 charities with incomes over £100 million
  • 34 Specifically, local authorities within PUAs, to account for suburban areas of large cities likely having different levels of need (and therefore different charity density) to inner cities. There are 141 local authorities within the 58 PUAs in England & Wales
  • 35 ‘Needs-focused’ local charities are defined as having causes in the areas of: poverty prevention & relief; education; employment; community development; economic; and housing & accommodation
  • 36 Many indicators could be used to define ‘need’. Here, income deprivation is used, similar to multiple deprivation measure used in Figure 12. Using child poverty instead leads to the same relationship in Figure 19
  • 37 Collinge T & Davis L (2021), What will Levelling Up Pay for?, NPC.
  • 38 This is well established in previous literature, e.g: Mohan J (2015), Charity deserts and social justice: exploring variations in the distribution of charitable organisations and their resources in England, in Morvaridi B (ed.), New philanthropy and social justice: debating the conceptual and policy discourse, Bristol; McDonnell D, Mohan J, & Norman P (2020), Charity Density and Social Need: A Longitudinal Perspective, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Volume 49, no. 5, pp1082-1104; and Clifford D (2020), Charitable organisations, the Great Recession and the Age of Austerity: Longitudinal Evidence for England and Wales, Journal of Social Policy, Volume 46, no. 1, pp1-30