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Sustainable Development Goals debate

11th June 2019

Harriett Baldwin responds to a debate on the sustainable development goals for 2030.

The Minister for Africa (Harriett Baldwin)

This has been a short but perfectly formed debate. We have touched the surface of a range of issues relating to the overarching framework that the whole world has signed up to for our journey towards 2030 as a global population. Today’s debate has been a milestone on that journey, enabling us to talk about not only the UK’s voluntary national review, but the journey on which the rest of the world is embarked. I am proud to stand at the Dispatch Box having been in the Government at the time when we enshrined our contribution of 0.7% of gross national income in statute. We are the first and only country in the world to have done that. Members on both sides of the House have expressed support today for the continuation of that approach; they can count on me to continue to support it, as, indeed, the Secretary of State made clear earlier.

This is the first time that we have carried out a voluntary national review. There are, of course, 17 goals. I do not know about the rest of the House, but I personally find that 17 is not exactly a catchy number to work with. I noticed that some Members worked that down to five Ps and others to fewer themes, but I find that 17 is a bit unmanageable. Within those 17 goals there are 169 targets and within that 244 separate indicators. Having worked in the private sector for many years before entering politics, I am a strong believer that it is important to measure these things, because what gets measured gets managed. Interestingly, as a result of this first voluntary national review we found that our independent ONS does not measure absolutely every one of those indicators; in fact only about 72% of those global indicators are already on our national reporting platform. That is the first thing we have learned, along with the importance of data around that. We have therefore decided to add to the data we commission.

We have had an excellent and wide-ranging debate with a range of contributions from the Opposition Benches, including by the hon. Members for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) and for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill), and the hon. Members for Dundee West ​(Chris Law) and for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady)—the voices from Scotland, where of course the process has been done by the devolved Administration of the independent Scottish Government—as well as the hon. Members for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) and for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy). We heard a number of times about food insecurity. As a result of the voluntary national review and the discovery that we had statistics for only 72% of the measures, we have commissioned a new data series for the UK, with a measure that will take place in the household surveys around food insecurity. I hope that the whole House will welcome the fact that what gets measured gets managed, as I said earlier, and that we will have a measure for that for the first time.

A number of points were made in the debate about the consultation process. This has been an ongoing process since the UK played such a pivotal part in developing the goals in the first place. In the run-up to the voluntary national review we have engaged with 350 organisations, we have had 200 different case studies shared with us, we have had 35 different engagement events—this is of course within England—and we have had the opportunity to talk to some of the Select Committees about this process. I welcome engagement from all the groups, and am particularly keen to hear from a wider range of groups as we go into the process of publication this week.

Stephen Twigg

The Minister says there will be publication this week: is she able to confirm that we will publish as we submit to the UN so that it will be publicly available including to parliamentarians simultaneously with its submission?

Harriett Baldwin

We have published this week the main messages from the UK voluntary national review. Obviously we will save for the high-level forum some of the details of the report itself, but my understanding is that publication is imminent. I am not able to specify precisely on which day it is coming out, because I am not sure whether that has been decided; as the hon. Gentleman knows, beings way above my pay grade decide such things.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle

In the Committee I asked—as the Chairman of the Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) asked again today in the Chamber—about the inclusion of civil society in the delegation and presentation at the high-level political forum. I was given reassurances that discussions were happening on the youth side with the British Youth Council. The Secretary-General produced the youth and SDGs report this year, which will also be presented at the HLPF, and it is important to include young people. Can the Minister confirm that young people and other sectors of civil society will be included in the delegation? If not, will we take urgent action to get our young UK ambassadors—a system I know the BYC runs very effectively—engaged in the process so that they are able to be interlocutors with the Minister and go together?

Harriett Baldwin

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case. Baroness Sugg will be leading the UK delegation, and I know that she will be thinking about the make-up of the delegation. I note the compelling case he has made for a wide representation of civil society on it.​

I want to mention some of the statistics that relate to this country. I have mentioned some of the gaps, but in terms of things that we measure, I am sure everyone in the House will welcome the overwhelmingly strong employment growth in the UK. Yet again today, we have seen how strong the job market is, and we have also seen that employment incomes are growing. In fact, the average income in this country is now £507 a week. That is the median income against which the poverty line— 60% of the median income—is measured. I am sure the House will also welcome the fact that there has been a disproportionately large increase in employment growth for the poorest 20% of households. These are an important part of the goals. We have seen a seven-point growth in the income of the poorest households. The percentage of people in this country in absolute low income is at an all-time low, and the percentage of children who are in absolute low income after housing costs remains at a historic low. However, hon. Members have pointed out—and we agree—that it is important to note that the goals call for zero poverty and zero hunger, and it will be valuable to see in the voluntary national review where there is still work left to do.

I particularly value the points made about people with disabilities. We have tried to show real leadership internationally on this, but we have also worked hard here domestically to increase the number of people with disabilities in work. There are 700,000 more people with disabilities in work since 2015. There is a lot we can learn from other countries, and the fact that this is happening in an international context with hundreds of other countries representing their insights will enable us to compare and contrast across the world, as the Chairman of the International Development Committee has said.

I fully acknowledge the importance of the world dealing with plastic waste, and the hon. Member for Bristol East will know how much work we have put into some of the pilot programmes internationally. We recognise the importance of the work that is done by a range of organisations including Tearfund, which we work with in Pakistan on waste management, and the importance of our learning from the great examples—the leadership, indeed—in other countries that have been quicker than we have to ban certain types of plastic that are difficult to get out of the food chain.

In summary, as I wait for the speaker who is going to respond to the Adjournment debate, I just want to highlight the fact that this is a journey that we are on as a world. The process of doing a voluntary national review has brought home the importance of measuring these things and the fact that, even with a very well developed and independent Office for National Statistics, we still have some room to improve on our measures. We can all learn from each other as a world, and I look forward to seeing a strong UK delegation at the high-level working group. I value all the inputs from our colleagues across the House in today’s important debate, and we look forward to working with the various Committees of the House as we continue to make progress towards the sustainable development goals for 2030.


Harriett says...

Harriett Baldwin
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