Sat | Aug 18, 2018

What is the Social Progress Index?

Published:Wednesday | April 29, 2015 | 12:00 AM

JUDGING THE progress of an economy by how much it produces every year sheds little light on how its people have progressed in terms of standard of living and well-being.

An economy must not only produce more every year, it should create a platform to satisfy basic human needs, empower people to improve their lives and protect the environment. The social progress index creates a rugged, holistic measurement framework for national, social and environmental performance that can be used by government, businesses and civil society to track their country's progress and make adjustments to increase their country's social well-being. The index is the first of its kind to be independent of gross domestic product (GDP) calculations and provides empirical evidence needed to foster inclusive growth in each region of economies. By understanding the index, a country will better understand the link between social progress and economic progress, in so doing, they can prioritise to achieve a balanced advancement in both areas.


How is it calculated?


The social progress index incorporates four key principles:

1. It employs social and environmental indicators only; it measures social progress directly independent of economic performance.

2. The aim is to measure the outcomes of social policy, not the input into social policy, for example, rather than assessing how much is spent on health care and wellness, the index analyses how much health care and wellness is achieved by the citizens of a country.

3. The index uses holistic measures that are common across all countries; it is relevant to all countries, not just poor countries.

4. The index is actionable by providing guidelines to poor and strong performances that countries can use to improve their standard of living and their social progress.


How is social progress measured?


Social progress is divided into three broad headings:

(a) Basic human needs; nutrition and basic human care, water and sanitation, shelter and personal safety.

(b) Foundations of well-being; access to basic knowledge, to information and communications; heath care and wellness; and ecosystem sustainability.

(c) Opportunity; personal rights, personal freedom and choice, tolerance and inclusion; access to advance education. These are aggregated and the scores are given out of 100. The social progress index covers 133 countries which includes approximately 94 per cent of the world's population, plus 28 countries with partial data.


What are the results?


The ranking is divided into groups, where the top group comprises of mainly European and North American countries. Jamaica is ranked among the upper middle group at 44th out of 133 countries; with a total score of 69.83 even though it has one of the lowest GDP per capital in its quintile.

Jamaica is one of the better performing Caribbean and Latin American countries on the index. The top three performing countries in the Caribbean and Latin America are Uruguay (24th), Costa Rica (26th) and Chile (28th), while the worst performers are Guyana (87th), Cuba (84th) and Honduras (82nd). In the index, South American countries perform better than Central America and Caribbean countries are the worst performers in the region.


Is this good?


Remarkably, Jamaica is ranked 11th in the world in terms of overperformers, as the country has excelled at providing a better platform for social progress relative to the rest of the world. Five of the top overperformers are from the Latin America and the Caribbean; Costa Rica (1st), Uruguay (2nd), Nicaragua (4th) and Chile (12th). The region is overperforming due to the positive changes it has been able to engineer through strong civic movement to supporting social improvement and environmental sustainability in pursuit of a stronger democracy. The top underperformers are Saudi Arabia, Angola and Iraq; the countries have been diminishing in social progress relative to the amount of resources they have.


What are the implications?


Although Jamaica has improved on social progress, basic human needs, foundations of well-being and the opportunity it provides to its citizens, a balanced approach towards development is required. Developmental policies aimed solely at increasing economic growth are insufficient in the long run. The results suggest that improvement in social well-being and the provision of greater opportunity increases the ability of a nation to grow faster in the long run.

Inclusive growth strategies are therefore necessary to improve social progress and increase the well-being of its citizens in the long run. Jamaica must continue to improve along these lines if it expects to achieve its vision 2030 goals.

- Dr Andre Haughton is a lecturer in the Department of Economics on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies. Follow him on twitter @DrAndreHaughton; or email editorial