UK ranked world's 13th most socially advanced country
New Zealand, the Netherlands and Germany have beaten the UK and the USA in a ranking of nations based on their social and environmental progress.
The UK is the 13th most socially advanced nation in the world out of 132 countries ranked on the Social Progress Index, released today.
The index, published by the Social Progress Imperative, a US-based nonprofit, is due to be debated at the annual Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, taking place in Oxford next week. It was launched at the same event a year ago.
New Zealand is ranked top, the Netherlands is revealed as the best performing country in European Union, while Canada is the best performing G8 country.
Slovenia and Estonia are Europe’s big success stories, scoring better than France, Spain and Italy. Of the big EU countries, Italy is a big under-performer, also coming in behind former Soviet bloc countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.
Brazil is the top of the BRICS, followed by South Africa, Russia, China and India. Apart from Brazil, the BRICS are all significant under-performers on social progress, suggesting that, for China and India in particular, rapid economic growth is not yet being converted into better lives for their citizens.
In the overall rankings of the Social Progress Index 2014, the UK’s ranking of 13th is broadly in line with its economic strength: its GDP per capita of $32,671* is the 14th highest of the countries in the study.
The Social Progress Index, created by a team led by Professor Michael E. Porter of Harvard Business School, is designed as a complement to GDP and other economic indicators to provide a more holistic understanding of countries’ overall performance.
Measuring a country’s social progress outcomes, the index identifies the areas in which the UK is under-performing compared to countries with a comparable GDP per capita. The UK was particularly weak on ‘health and wellness’, ranking 37th globally.
The UK is let down by its poor score on ‘health and wellness’ and the findings also illustrate ongoing problems with ‘personal safety’.
Professor Porter said: “Until now, the assumption has been that there is a direct relationship between economic growth and wellbeing. However, the Social Progress Index finds that all economic growth is not equal. While higher GDP per capita is correlated with social progress, the connection is far from automatic. For similar levels of GDP, we find that some countries achieve much higher levels of social progress than others.”
Michael Green, Executive Director of the Social Progress Imperative, said: “Overall, within Europe the UK’s ranking is middle of the road: it’s more socially advanced than either Belgium, France, Ireland or Spain but loses out to all the Nordic countries, and to Germany by a single ranking. The UK is let down by its poor score on ‘health and wellness’ and the findings also illustrate ongoing problems with ‘personal safety’. Like many rich countries the UK’s lowest score is on ‘ecosystem sustainability’.”
The Social Progress Imperative created the Social Progress Index working in collaboration with scholars from the Harvard Business School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as well leading international organizations in social entrepreneurship, business and philanthropy including Cisco, Compartamos Banco, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (Deloitte Global), Fundación Avina, and the Skoll Foundation.
Sally Osberg, President and CEO of the Skoll Foundation, said: “Making social progress a true imperative means putting the progress of humanity and our wellbeing on an equal footing with GDP. The Social Progress Index prioritizes and measures what matters, capturing data that ranges from basic needs such as health to the building blocks and guarantees of opportunity such as education and rights.
"The Index is a game-changing new tool, designed to empower governments, businesses, social entrepreneurs, and others; to advance their collective accountability; and to illuminate opportunities for investing in and scaling solutions. As the first global framework to disaggregate global social progress from economic progress, the Social Progress Index will propel nations on a path to a more peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world.”
Steve Almond, Global Chairman of Deloitte Global, said: “To achieve sustainable growth in business and society both economic success and social progress need to be considered. Deloitte Global and its member firms are collaborating with the Social Progress Imperative and others because we believe business has a role to play in helping solve the world’s critical issues and the Index is a tool that can ignite collective action from business, government and society.”
Professor Porter added: “The Social Progress Index is the most inclusive and ambitious effort ever attempted to define and measure social progress comprehensively. It is a new tool which allows us to have a more complete picture of a country’s wellbeing as a society that can be compared and evaluated against economic performance. It is our hope that just as GDP per capita is the de facto measure of economic success, so too SPI will become a widely accepted measure of social and environmental success.
“The Social Progress Index is designed to capture the full breadth of issues that define social progress, benchmark country performance, and identify priority areas for improvement. The Index uses indicators that measure outcomes — such as life expectancy, literacy, and freedom of personal choice — rather than inputs such as size of government spending or laws passed. And, because the Social Progress Index measures comprehensive social outcomes directly, separately from economic indicators, it allows us – for the first time – to examine the relationship between economic and social progress.”
What is social progress?
Social progress is defined as the capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens to improve their lives, and create the conditions for individuals and communities to meet their full potential.
Key global highlights:
- New Zealand is this year’s top performing country.
- The Netherlands is the best performing country in European Union.
- Canada is the best performing G8 country.
- Slovenia and Estonia are Europe’s big success stories, scoring better than France, Spain and Italy. Of the big EU countries Italy is a big under-performer, also coming in behind former Soviet bloc countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.
- Brazil is the top of the BRICS, followed by South Africa, Russia, China and India. Apart from Brazil, the BRICS are all significant under-performers on social progress, suggesting that, for China and India in particular, rapid economic growth is not yet being converted into better lives for their citizens.
- In the overall rankings of the Social Progress Index 2014, which ranks 132 countries based on their social and environmental progress, the UK’s ranking of 13th is broadly in line with its economic strength: its GDP per capita of $32,671* is the 14th highest of the countries in the study.
Key UK findings
Within the ‘Opportunity’ dimension the UK scores best for ‘Personal Rights’ (tied for 2nd place with Australia and Estonia) and ahead of the Netherlands (9th), the United States (22nd) and Germany (27th). The UK actually scores top in a number of categories that make up ‘Personal Rights’, tying with various countries for first place on measures including: political rights; freedom of speech; freedom of assembly; and freedom of movement.
The UK’s poor ‘Health and Wellness’ score—37th globally—owes primarily its obesity rate (almost 25 percent of the population) higher than many other Western European countries including the Netherlands (16.2), Sweden (16.6) and Switzerland (14.9). The British Government is, however, starting to take action. It has introduced a number of recent policy initiatives, including the Change4Life programme and a consistent front-of-pack food labelling system, to encourage people to eat and drink more healthily and to be more active. Nevertheless, in 2014, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer made calls for the introduction of a ‘sugar tax’, to help reduce obesity and related conditions, such as Type 2 Diabetes.
The UK’s ‘Personal Safety’ score (21st globally) is another poor performing component - scoring lower than Canada (9th), Germany (13th), Australia (15th) and New Zealand (17th). This is despite the fact that recorded crime in the UK has reduced significantly over the past three decades, and official figures suggest the level of violent crime in the UK is at its lowest in 33 years. Nonetheless, the level of violent crime is higher in the UK than in many Western European countries including Austria, Finland, Portugal and Norway. Additionally, perceived criminality in the UK ranks higher than many other nations including Poland, Portugal and the Netherlands.
The full, interactive dataset from the Index is available online.
Photo credit: Börkur Sigurbjörnsson