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Sun 26 May 2019
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Though Theresa May’s Government gave itself a deadline of July 2019 to report on progress against UN Sustainable Development Goals, it now seems to be hiding its lack of action.

Before 2030 all UN member states are expected to report at least once to the United Nations High Level Political Forum on their progress on seventeen targets to reduce poverty and hunger, improve the environment and public heath and fight climate change by 2030. The British Government gave itself a deadline to report back to the UN this July, 2019.

We can’t see if things are getting better or worse. … You can’t get a picture of what’s happening.

Mary Creagh MP, chair of the Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee

But MPs can’t fully see ‘if things are getting better or worse’ since Brexit vote warned Mary Creagh MP, chair of the Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), last week. She accused the Government of suppressing statisticians’ work on sustainable development, in a stand-off with International Development Minister, Baroness Liz Sugg.

Suppressed Data

The EAC is inquiring into the Government’s progress on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals which aim to ‘eradicate poverty in all its forms’ by 2030. They include ambitious pledges such as ‘zero hunger’, ‘peace and justice’ and ‘sustainable cities’:

Last March, the Office for National Statistics said that by the end of April 2020 they aim to report against 75% of the seventeen ‘indicators’ for the UN goals under snappy slogans such as ‘End Poverty’, ‘Climate Action’ and ‘Zero Hunger’. 

Creagh explained that for significant sections of the UN goals: “In terms of the data, there are no trends. We can’t see if things are getting better or worse. … You can’t get a picture of what’s happening”.

Other Select Committees in Parliament are having similar difficulties assessing progress towards the Goals across the UK, Creagh alleged.

The Brexit Effect on Housing, Welfare, Food Banks

The Government’s attitude has also come in for wider criticism by MPs and third sector experts for being distracted from ‘the bigger picture’ while working on Brexit policy. 

MPs are concerned that data about food banks, a crisis in children’s services, and low welfare in prisons may not be being fully taken into account in the Government’s plans for meeting the goals.

The UN goal of ‘affordable homes’ has been described as ‘optimistic’ by the Department for International Development. Creagh said: “There is a sort of Pollyanna Pangloss onto this, which we are concerned about. It seems like the department is trying to paper over the difficulties.”

We’ve had electricity since the 1950s. That’s not a government achievement.

Mary Creagh MP

Creagh challenged Sugg: “You won’t consult Parliament on that document.”

Baroness Sugg replied: “There will be the opportunity after we have published it, to have further parliamentary involvement, to hear back people’s opinion on the document, and to make sure that we reflect that in the final presentation in July.”

Creagh pointed to a promise by Lord Bates last October to consult Parliament on the Government’s progress. So far, this engagement has been ‘banal’, Creagh said.

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“We’ve had one session with Penny Mordaunt in February where we got a document that told us proudly that 100% of people in the UK have access to electricity… That wouldn’t even pass a geography GCSE … We’ve had electricity since the 1950s. That’s not a government achievement.”

Lord Bates as a DFID minister had only met with ‘one conservative back-bencher and one Labour Lord’ on the All Party Parliamentary Group for discuss Sustainable Development Goals, Creagh further alleged: “That is not consulting Parliament.”

More from this Byline Times investigation:

More stories filed under Reportage