Posted: 10 Nov. 2020 5 min. read

2020 Social Progress Index

Measures to combat COVID have delivered a severe economic contraction in 2020, in Australia and around the world.

The consequences are also being seen in broader measures of welfare, beyond GDP. The 2020 Social Progress Index (SPI) shows that the world’s social progress has stalled in 2020, which is expected to delay the achievement of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The SPI was developed to monitor the progress of societies based on their social and environmental outcomes, and to complement economic measures such as GDP.

Global trends

Over the years, social progress has improved across the globe, with 98% of countries achieving a higher rate of social progress in 2020 relative to 2014. This has been driven largely by significant improvements in access to information and advanced education, as well as basic needs such as shelter and clean water. However, 2020 has been a difficult year, with the COVID headwind pushing 25% of countries to a lower level of social progress relative to 2019.

The world average SPI fell by 0.08 points relative to 2019, primarily due to a 2.01 point drop in inclusiveness (which reflects a drop in equality of political power) and a 1.47 point drop in personal rights (which reflects a drop in both political rights and freedom of religion). Inclusiveness and personal rights have experienced, on average, a downwards trend since 2014. However, progress on access to information and communications and environmental quality has changed course in 2020, falling relative to 2019.

Figure 1. World Average Social Progress Index and Component Scores 2020

Source: Social Progress Imperative 2020, Deloitte Access Economics calculations.

Australia’s performance

Australia is well positioned, in 8th place globally, relative to 12th in 2019. Australia punches above its weight on social progress, given the nation has only the 17th highest level of GDP per capita in the world.

Australia performs particularly well in relation to access to advanced education (ranking 2nd), personal rights (4th) and personal safety (6th). However, relative to other countries with a similar GDP per capita, Australia underperforms on providing access to quality healthcare, ensuring equality of political power by socioeconomic position, ensuring biome protection and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, Australia ranks 178th on greenhouse gas emissions, which significantly impedes overall social progress. It is more important than ever to address climate risk, with Deloitte Access Economics modelling suggesting that $3.4 trillion would be lost from unmitigated impacts of climate change.

Figure 2. Australia’s Social Progress Index and Component Scores 2020

Source: Social Progress Imperative 2020, Deloitte Access Economics calculations.

Approaching the UN Sustainable Development Goals

On the current trajectory, particularly given the setback from COVID, the world is not on track to reach the UN Goals for Sustainable Development by 2030.

Previous estimates by Deloitte found that the world needs an SPI score of 75/100 by 2030 to meet the Goals. Based on the growth in the SPI from 2014 to 2020, it is expected a score of 75 would only be achieved by 2060.

The fallout from COVID-19 makes this outcome even less likely, with the full impact of the virus not yet reflected in SPI scores globally. The pandemic has, and will continue to, put economic pressure on countries globally – which is expected to exacerbate social and environmental outcomes. It is essential that in our steps to COVID-19 recovery, social outcomes including personal rights and freedoms also remain in focus.

More about the authors

David Rumbens

David Rumbens

Partner, Deloitte Access Economics

David is a macro economist with extensive experience in applied economic and quantitative analysis of the Australian economy, along with considerable experience in labor market analysis.  David is a regular commentator on macroeconomic trends, and prepares a weekly economic briefing newsletter.

Rachael Gibson

Rachael Gibson

Analyst, Deloitte Access Econcomics

Rachael is an analyst at Deloitte Access Economics, with a passion for improving outcomes for vulnerable groups through effective social policy, development economics and supportive health and education programs. Rachael is experienced in program evaluations, social cost-benefit methodologies and model development. She also has experience conducting systematic literature reviews and engaging with stakeholders from diverse cohorts. Rachael has prior experience in the financial services sector and received First Class Honours in Economics at the University of Sydney, with a thesis that studied how non-cognitive skills moderate the relationship between the socioeconomic status and academic performance of university students.