Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 5 in the UK Contents

5Gathering data and monitoring progress

134.The data used to develop national indicators on the SDGs and the availability of data to assess progress towards the goals are both central to their effective implementation. In this chapter we outline the process for monitoring the SDGs and focus on the role of the Office for National Statistics in gathering the data needed for monitoring and implementation. As noted in Chapter 4, partnership working is central to the SDGs, and here we examine the role of civil society and business in data gathering and monitoring. We also return to the theme of ‘leaving no-one behind’ and assess the implications of this key principle for the process of data gathering.

Monitoring progress on the Sustainable Development Goals

135.At the global level, the 17 goals and 169 targets will be monitored and reviewed using a set of global indicators. National indicators will be used to assist in monitoring progress made on the global goals and targets. These national indicators will give stakeholders in individual countries an opportunity to scrutinise how well their country is progressing towards achieving the various targets.

136.The UN states that governments are expected to take ownership of the goals and establish national frameworks for their achievement. It says that “countries have the primary responsibility for follow-up and review of the progress made in implementing the goals.”138 The UN sets out guiding principles for this domestic accountability; these include the creation of a domestic mechanism for follow-up and review and an emphasis on this mechanism being “inclusive and participatory.”139

137.In its 2016 report on the Sustainable Development Goals, the International Development Committee recommended that the Government publish an annual report on domestic progress towards the SDGs, along with a full breakdown and analysis of the data, disaggregated where relevant. This would enable select committees “to track progress and hold relevant Government departments to account.”140 This recommendation was reiterated by Bond/GADN in their evidence to our inquiry.141

138.Dr Graham Long suggested that there was “scope for the development of an overarching domestic accountability” without the creation of new structures, for example through parliamentary committees. However, he cautioned that any structure would need to be inclusive and participatory, “It cannot just be experts and people testifying to committees. It has to be wider than that somehow.”142

139.Including civil society in monitoring progress towards the SDGs would be one way to create a participatory and inclusive structure of accountability. The Government has recognised the role of the UK NGO sector “in both the delivery and monitoring of Goal 5.”143

As an example of a non-governmental initiative, the Fawcett Society has already embarked on a process to monitor progress on the SDGs; it is developing an annual Gender Scorecard from 2017 onwards, using a number of substantive indicators it has identified as relevant to SDG 5.144

140.Womankind Worldwide described how it had worked with women’s rights organisations in Kenya, Nepal and Peru to develop an advocacy toolkit. This aims to help women’s rights organisations use the SDGs to achieve change in their areas of expertise. The toolkit gives an overview of the commitments made under the SDGs, identifies key areas for action, and provides guidance on developing a tailored advocacy strategy.145 Womankind Worldwide suggested that similar tools could be developed to support the implementation of SDG 5 in the UK.146

141.The Government has said that the UK’s process for monitoring and reporting the SDGs is “still under development”. It clarified that ONS would be “responsible for providing UK data for the global indicators to the UN,” and would make these data publically available.147

National SDG Indicators

142.Dr Graham Long and UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD) pointed out the importance of developing UK-specific indicators both to measure progress towards the SDGs and to identify gaps in data. UKSSD acknowledged the difficulties in translating generalised global targets into domestic ones. It noted that “’qualitative targets’ such as ‘substantially increase’ need translation into numeric policy targets at national level”.148

143.We asked ministers for further information on the process for establishing and monitoring UK indicators. The Minister for International Development told us that the information needed to update data on particular indicators “will be generated by the departments through the Single Departmental Plan, which will be informed by data from the ONS.”149

144.We asked for clarification in writing of exactly how the relationship between the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and government departments will work with regard to supplying data to measure progress towards the SDG indicators. The Minister for International Development told us that the ONS will continue to have “lead responsibility for compiling and reporting UK data for global SDG indicators.” The Minister said that at the time of the Spending Review, the Government had not yet decided the UK’s national indicators and had not assigned roles and responsibilities for how they would be monitored. However, the Government has now decided that the “indicators included in the SDPs will also serve as national indicators for the Goals”.150

Role of the Office for National Statistics

145.As noted above, the ONS has responsibility for reporting UK data on the SDGs to the UN. Written evidence from the ONS outlined its specific responsibilities as:

146.Emma Rourke, Director of Public Policy Analysis at the ONS, told us that the ONS was not responsible for “national domestic progress specifically.”152 Ms Rourke emphasised the role of the Single Departmental Plans as “the vehicle for the domestic, national indicators,”153 and played down the ONS’s role in creating a national indicator framework. She said the ONS would “offer advice and support” in creating the indicators but said this would constitute “technical advice.”154

147.However, in the preface to the findings on its research exercise on the SDGs published in August 2016, the ONS stated that one of its roles was to work with “official and non-official data producers to identify supplementary, UK focused indicators.” It also made clear that it intended to develop a “UK reporting framework for SDGs” which would be “put to the public for consultation in autumn 2016”.155

148.When we asked the ONS for clarification on its role in developing national indicators and assessing progress against them, it pointed to evidence given to us by the Department for International Development which said the Government would be in a position to develop its thinking on reporting once the indictors had been agreed by the UN.156

ONS consultation on national indicators

149.A research exercise on the SDGs carried out between March and May 2016 by the ONS in collaboration with UKSSD received 131 responses, representing 58 organisations and individuals.157

150.The stakeholders consulted in the research exercise did not include any women’s organisations. Concern was raised by the British Council regarding this lack of engagement. It reported that “there has been little input from the women’s sector so far [on the UK targets]” and recommended that “the ONS engage more systematically with civil society and in particular women’s organisations in the next phase of the consultation.”158

151.The ONS was scheduled to launch a public consultation on the national indicators on 29 November 2016. However, this consultation was postponed. The ONS explained this was in order to “consider fully all the material received from stakeholders,” and that the postponement afforded it the opportunity to align the Sustainable Development Goals with other UK indicators of progress.159

152.The ONS set out the reasons for this delay in more detail in supplementary evidence to us. It cited UN refinements to existing indicators, the refresh of Single Departmental Plans, and the ONS’s work with the Cabinet Office on a Racial Disparity Audit as factors leading to its decision to delay consultation.160

153.Dr Helen Mott and the National Alliance of Women’s Organisations (NAWO) expressed concern about the delay in publishing the national indicators framework. NAWO noted that “it is already more than a year since the launch of Agenda 2030,” and said that the ONS needs to complete the development of a national indicator framework “as a matter of urgency.”161

Data collection

154.The difficulty of gathering accurate and timely data to establish indicators and assess progress on the SDGs was acknowledged by the Minister for International Development, who said it was a “huge statistical challenge—one of the biggest that we have ever faced as a Government.”162

155.Although the UK is in an enviable position relative to many other countries when it comes to data collection, the SDGs’ explicit focus on gender equality creates specific challenges. Dr Helen Mott noted that, in its reflections on CEDAW in 2012, the Equality and Human Rights Commission said the UK had “actually lost a number of the mechanisms” it had for recording data particularly with regard to progress on gender equality. She pointed out that although the British Council report found that in a global context “the UK is in a really good position”, unavailability of data and, most importantly, lack of disaggregation in what is available could still cause problems.163

156.Dr Mott suggested that this problem could be addressed in part through the reconstitution of the Gender Statistics User Group. This group brought together the EHRC, the ONS, and other stakeholders to discuss how gaps in data on gender equality and violence against women could most effectively be tackled.164

157.A number of specific concerns about data collection were raised in written evidence. The EHRC noted problems in the collection of data on violence against women and girls, stating that issues remain in respect of “systemic under-reporting of sexual violence and unsatisfactory official recording of reports by the police.” It noted that survey data on sexual violence collected in England and Wales are limited to 16 to 59 year olds, with older people excluded from the data collection.165

158.Research by Plan International UK for its State of Girls’ Rights in the UK report found “concerning gaps in publicly available data that would support targeted interventions and measurement of progress.” The report concluded that it was “impossible” to compare outcomes across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland due to both an absence of data and the fact that data are collected differently across the devolved administrations.166 Plan International UK was also concerned about data on violence against the person and noted these were broken down by police force rather than by age, gender and local area.167 

159.Dr Carole Easton from the Young Women’s Trust also raised the issue of missing data on girls and young women. She told us that young women who did not fall into specific categories were “getting lost” from the data. She said this was a particular issue for those who were impoverished and not claiming benefits. Dr Easton noted that economically inactive women outnumber men considerably and these women were often missing from data, especially when they had additional protected characteristics.168

160.The SDG theme of ‘leaving no-one behind’ is intended to focus data collection and policy-making on some of the issues raised above. As Dr Graham Long noted, the choice of data used to create national indicators will dictate which issues are addressed and which policies are put in place. If data is not collected on certain groups, the issues they face will not be highlighted and therefore risk being ignored. Dr Long suggested that a focus on ‘leave no-one behind’ could help ensure this does not happen.169

161.In oral evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee, Abigail Self, Head of Sustainable Development Goals at the ONS, said that this is where the “biggest challenge” is, since hard-to-reach groups are “very small and often there is insufficient data to monitor them”. However, she acknowledged that the SDGs offer an opportunity for a “data revolution” in which data are gathered from official and unofficial sources in different ways that have “never been done before.”170

Disaggregating data

162.The importance of gathering data that can be disaggregated by different characteristics, including age, gender, ethnicity, and location, was raised throughout this inquiry. NAWO noted that

High quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by income, gender, age, marital status, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability, geographic location etc. is essential in order to effectively monitor SDG progress.171

163.Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters told us about the difficulties her organisation faced when requesting data from the Home Office on how many domestic violence-related homicides involved black women. She was told that the Home Office did not keep data on race and could therefore not answer the question.172

164.When we questioned ministers on this issue, the Minister for International Development made it clear he thought disaggregation was crucial, and that the SDG targets could not be met without it.173 With regard to the specific issue of disaggregation by ethnicity, the Minister for Women, Equalities and Early Years told us:

The Government Equalities Office’s role only covers women and people from LGBT communities, so it will be up to different Government departments to decide whether they want to do something similar with regard to race, for example.174

Working with civil society and business

165.The UN, Government and stakeholders all recognise that there is a clear role for civil society and business to play in collecting the data needed to assess and implement SDG 5. UKSSD and NAWO both pointed out that the ONS will have to supplement its data with information supplied by business, civil society and academia.175 However, UKSSD warned that in order to secure this information the Government will have to “strengthen the incentives” for stakeholders to collect and contribute data in a SDG compatible format.176

166.NAWO pointed out that civil society could potentially play an important role in gathering qualitative, as well as quantitative data relevant to the SDGs. It said the value of the “actual lived experience of women and girls” should not be ignored.177

167.Whilst many organisations were keen to participate in data collection for the SDGs, some witnesses cautioned that there were potential barriers to their support. Pragna Patel warned that some black and ethnic minority women may feel cautious about supplying data without knowing how it would be used by institutions.178 In order to address this problem she suggested that:

There needs to be better and greater transparency within institutions as to why they are collecting data, what it is for, and in demonstrating that the data that is collected is to inform policy, strategies and plans and not for any other purpose.179

168.A number of witnesses told us they had access to useful information, but made it clear that better support and resources would be needed for them to play any role in gathering data. Dionne Nelson of the Women’s Resource Centre explained that women’s organisation are already collecting data on issues such as “sexual violence, health inequalities or lack of pension”. However, she said that more work was needed to support organisations in understanding their role in data collection. She suggested that “more information on how the standards should be kept” should be given to civil society organisations.180

169.The need for specific resources for civil society to engage in data collection was raised by Natasha Walter of Women for Refugee Women. She pointed out that small, frontline organisations like hers do not have the resources for rigorous data collection:

as a tiny charity, we are not able to take a representative sample; we are not able to track the outcomes for those women over time. We know the limitations of the data that we are collecting. 181

170.With regard to business contributing to the data set for the SDGs, UKSSD said one option could be to mandate non-financial reporting on SDGs within corporate governance rules. This would provide a means of compiling data on progress against the SDGs in the private sector. However, UKSSD suggested that voluntary reporting would be preferable.182

171.Accurate and detailed data gathering is essential to the successful implementation and monitoring of the SDGs. The Government needs to ensure it collects data that can be disaggregated by different characteristics if it is to achieve the objective of leaving no-one behind. We have heard that there are some specific barriers to gathering data relevant to SDG 5. These gaps must be addressed urgently as the data used to set the UK’s national indicators will dictate which issues are examined and prioritised.

172.Although gender equality and partnership working are central tenets of the SDGs, no women’s organisations were involved in the Office for National Statistics’ survey of views on national indicators. This shows a lack of engagement with the principles of the SDGs.

173.There are significant opportunities for specialist organisations, which have extensive expertise and links to many of the most marginalised and disadvantaged women and girls, to inform the development and monitoring of the UK’s SDG indicators. However, in order to play this role these organisations will need additional funding and support.

174.We recommend that the Government publish its plans for a robust framework for the independent verification and monitoring of the UK’s progress on the targets within SDG 5. This should be made public by September 2017. Given that national indicators will be included within Single Departmental Plans, the Government should also demonstrate how it ensured that the process for selecting national indicators was transparent and involved the participation of civil society when it publishes the revised SDPs.

175.We also recommend that the ONS immediately convene a working group to explore what role organisations working with women and girls can play in developing national indicators and contributing data to them. This could be modelled along the lines of the Gender Statistics Users Group.

176.The Government should make a clear commitment to collecting data against the SDG targets in a manner that allows for comprehensive disaggregation.

177.The Government should ensure that funding is provided to expert organisations to enable them to participate fully in the data collection and monitoring functions necessary for the achievement of SDG 5. This must be additional to any Government funding for their day-to-day activities.


138 UN, The sustainable development agenda, accessed 28 February 2017

139 Q29

140 International Development Committee, First Report of Session 2016–17, UK implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, HC 103, para 123

141 Bond/GADN (SDG0028), para 6

142 Q29

144 Fawcett Society (SDG0031)

145 Womankind Worldwide (SDG0020), para 22

148 UKSSD (SDG0032), para 15

149 Q212

152 Q137

153 Q144

154 Q145

158 British Council (SDG0019), para 8.2

159 ONS, Sustainable Development Goals Latest News, accessed 15 February 2017

162 Q229

163 Q14

164 Q19 [Dr Helen Mott]

166 Plan International UK (SDG0018), para 23

167 Plan International UK (SDG0018), para 24

168 Q119 [Dr Easton]

169 Q15

170 Oral evidence taken before the Environmental Audit Committee on 15 November 2016, HC 596, Q4 [Abigail Self]

172 Q125 [Pragna Patel]

173 Q228

174 Q225

176 UKSSD (SDG0032), para 13

178 Q119 [Pragna Patel]

179 Q120

180 Q96 [Dionne Nelson]

181 Q121

182 UKSSD (SDG0032), para 14




10 March 2017