South Africa: What the Social Progress Index tells us.

Since 2014 Social Progress Indexes (SPI) have been developed and used around the world by businesses, civil society organisations and governments. Social progress reports measure a wide range of data fields, including access to health, education resources, social freedom and opportunity.

SPIs were developed because of the growing realisation that the current benchmark for measuring economic growth is GDP growth; an 85 year old measure now considered by some to be incomplete and inadequate on its own.  Criticism levelled at GDP growth as a measure include the fact that it ignores the impact of growth on the environment, it classifies the production of weapons, prisons and bombs as progress, it does not attempt to measure happiness and is silent on the equitable distribution of resources within a country.

An SPI thus aims to move away from using just GDP or unemployment figures as a measure of economic progress; it creates a framework to look at the quality of life of a country’s citizens and how wealth is distributed.

A well-designed SPI can provide a systematic, empirical foundation to provide a framework for inclusive growth strategies. It also serves as a measurement tool to equip leaders and change managers in business, government and civil society on how to guide future policy and resource allocation.

The most recent Social Progress Index (SPI) in South Africa was designed by IQbusiness, one of the largest independent management consulting firms in South Africa, in conjunction with Statistics South Africa. It measures South Africa’s performance on three dimensions: basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing and opportunity. Within these it uses 12 components that ask questions such as whether people feel safe, whether their water sources are reliable, whether they have adequate housing, whether they or their children have access to foundational education, whether their rights are protected and if they are free to make their own decisions.

According to the statistician general at Stats SA, Risenga Maluleke, the compilation of the index serves as a sterling example of the contribution that the private sector can make towards measuring inclusive economic growth.

In 2019, South Africa ranked 73 out of the 149 countries that were included in the index, scoring an overall SPI score of 67.44, (up from the 2018 score of 66.00). However, the newly published provincial analysis shows deep rifts in social scores between our nine provinces.

It will come as no surprise to South Africans that Gauteng and the Western Cape were the only provinces in South Africa with an above-average rating in terms of being able to cater for the social and environmental needs of the people who live there. 

Provincial results by dimension and overall SPI scores.

To download the whole report, please click here.

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