UK gets mixed reviews on SDG progress

8 Jul 19

The UK government is claiming progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in the country and abroad amid continuing criticism of its efforts.

A report on the implementation of the SDGs agreed by the United Nations has said the country has a “strong story” to tell so far on most of the goals.

Critics have said policies are still absent in key areas and have pointed to a poor domestic performance tackling food insecurity as well as the negative impact of a change in the focus of British overseas aid.

In 2015 the government committed to achieving the SDGs by 2030 and at the end of June it published its report on the implementation of them so far, the so-called Voluntary National Review, which will be presented at the UN in New York next week.

In its review, the UK government claims that in terms of the domestic application of the SDGs, it had ticked the boxes in several key areas.

It has achieved the creation of a high-quality health service free for all at the point of use, high and rising standards of education, growing employment, progress on climate change, and extensive legislation on equality. 

However, it admits that some areas need more work, including tackling injustice, strengthening efforts to address climate and environmental issues, improving access to housing, responding to mental health needs, and supporting a growing and ageing population. 

In terms of its performance abroad, the UK government has said it is meeting the UN’s target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on aid.

It also highlights progress in tackling climate change, addressing the “root causes of extreme poverty” and contributing to “inclusive and sustainable economic growth”.

However, several observers have given the country mixed reviews.

Last year the UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development, a coalition of NGOs, provided a “score card” in which it said that out of 143 domestic targets the UK is performing “well” on only 24% of them. 

There were gaps in policy or inadequate performance on 57% of targets and in 15% of cases there is little or no policy in place or performance is poor. 

Organisations working in international development – the so-called BOND network – have also published their assessment of the UK’s performance, which is critical in several areas.

“Across a range of areas, the UK government is not doing nearly enough to transfer its commitments on leave no-one behind into policy or put them into practice,” the network says.

It adds that the UK government’s approach to privatisation, delivering development “in the national interest” and which departments spend aid has shifted the focus away from poverty eradication.

Other critics say the UK has performed badly in key areas such as the effort to combat food insecurity within Britain itself, and parliament’s own Environmental Audit Committee has added to these concerns.

Parliament’s International Development Committee is conducting its own inquiry into the progress made by DfID and the UK government on achieving the SDGs.

  • Gavin O'Toole, expert on Latin America
    Gavin O'Toole

    A freelance journalist. He has written six books about Latin America and taught the politics of the region at Queen Mary, University of London.

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