What does it mean to ‘leave no-one behind?’


The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has the principle of ‘leaving no-one behind’ at its core. Efforts to improve social, economic and environmental conditions should focus first on those most in need. This calls, of course, for data and statistics to be disaggregated along many dimensions, such as age, sex, disability status, migratory status, ethnicity and geographic location, so that at-risk groups can be identified and their progress monitored.

But it also raises a fundamental question. What does it mean to be left behind?

Social exclusion – being left behind—can take many forms. Poverty and material deprivation are, certainly, major factors in social exclusion, but missing out on society’s opportunities is not due to poverty alone. There are multiple other ways in which vulnerable groups can find themselves excluded: barriers to accessing services such as health care and education; limited social support networks; exclusion from the increasing trend towards digitalization; obstacles that limit civic participation; and experiences of crime and criminal justice that affect actual or perceived ability to participate in society. Social exclusion is detrimental not only to the individuals suffering from it, but to whole populations since it reduces the cohesion and equitable functioning of societies.

So broad is the range of ways that social exclusion can manifest itself, and so diverse the cultural contexts in which it can arise, that statisticians are not attempting to arrive at a single definition of what it means. Instead, a UNECE-led group of experts has gathered today in Geneva to examine and compare the many frameworks used to understand social exclusion; the data sources used to collect information on the extent and spread of the phenomenon; and the ways that indicators of social exclusion can be used to better understand progress or impediments to achieving the SDGs.

The range of current approaches to measurement is testament to the complexity of the issue. In the Netherlands, a Social Exclusion Index has been developed based on 42 indicators—looking at material deprivation, limited social participation, inadequate access to social institutions and lack of integration. In the United Kingdom a conceptual framework based on three dimensions—quality of life, resources and participation—is being used experimentally to assess the availability of data in existing surveys and other sources.

The Task Force on Measuring Social Exclusion, comprising 28 experts from countries participating in the Conference of European Statisticians (CES) as well as ECLAC, Eurostat, OECD and UNDP, is gathering evidence to help them prepare recommendations for best practice, to be presented to the UNECE-led Conference of European Statisticians (CES) in 2020. The resulting guidance will aid countries in producing comparable indicators that permit cross-country analyses of this complex and ever-changing issue.

The work of the Task Force follows an in-depth review of the statistical measurement of social exclusion conducted for the CES by Canada and Mexico in 2018.


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