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UK sees six-fold increase in social impact investment market in eight years

UK sees six-fold increase in social impact investment market in eight years

Social impact investing in the UK has grown six-fold over the past eight years, increasing from £830 million in 2011 to £5.1 billion in 2019, according to figures released today by Big Society Capital.

Big Society Capital’s latest annual market estimate shows that most of the growth has come through alternatives to traditional bank lending, which have scaled 20-fold from £169 million in 2011 to £3,388 million last year. This diversity has enabled different types of investor to enter the market and increased the availability of finance options for social enterprises and charities.

Most recently, between 2018 and 2019, there was just over a 20% increase in the value of social impact investments in the UK, to £5.1 billion. The number of transactions made in the sector increased by 18% year on year to more than 5,000 in 2019, with investment coming from a broad range of institutions, including venture capital funds, social banks, social property funds, charity bonds and specialist lenders.

Largest segments of the market revealed

Social property funds, which did not exist eight years ago, now account for the largest segment of the market: at 42% of the £5.1 billion outstanding social investments at the end of 2019.

Secured bank lending is the second largest segment of the market at 34% and, according to Big Society Capital, is the source of finance still most likely to be taken on by a social enterprise or charity. This has grown from £664 million in 2011 to £1.7 billion in 2019.

Venture investing has also seen considerable growth, of nearly 50% year on year. This sees investors provide early stage and growth capital for innovative ventures tackling social issues, such as preventing mental ill health, childhood obesity and the ageing population.


Unsecured non-bank lending & lower value deals also in demand

With not all charities and social enterprises having assets against which a loan can be secured, Big Society Capital has also seen a doubling of the amounts of unsecured non-bank lending since 2011, with over 1,600 investments now outstanding, valued at £327 million, including blended finance.

While the social impact investment market has continued to expand, there is still demand for lower value deals, demonstrated by the volume committed through the Growth Fund during 2019 – just under 20% of the total deal flow across the market.

The Growth Fund – which is managed by Access – The Foundation for Social Investment with funding from The National Lottery Community Fund and Big Society Capital – was set up to enable charities and social enterprises to access repayable finance of up to £150,000.

Seb Elsworth, Chief Executive, Access – The Foundation for Social Investment, said:

“The Growth Fund continues to be a cornerstone of social investment in England, with around one in six of all deals in 2019 coming from the programme. Average size investments of just over £60k are meeting clear demand from the sector. These numbers show the vital role blended capital plays and the need for long-term subsidy to support it.”

Stephen Muers, Interim CEO of Big Society Capital, added:

“It is very pleasing to see the substantial growth in the market to the end of 2019 and the growing popularity of the different investment options available, encouraging a broader spectrum of investors into this market to create greater positive change for people across the UK.

“The impact of Covid-19 has been both social and economic and I believe will be a key driver in shifting investors’ focus from a purely financial return to one that delivers a social impact too. I expect social impact investment to play an increasingly important role as an engine of the economic recovery.”

Melanie May is a journalist and copywriter specialising in writing both for and about the charity and marketing services sectors since 2001. She can be reached via

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