1. Introduction

Sustainable Development Indicators

The Sustainable Development Indicators (SDIs) provide an overview of progress towards a sustainable economy, society and environment.

There are 12 headline and 23 supplementary indicators, which are supported by 25 and 41 measures respectively. Where there are sufficient data to be compared, measures have been assessed over the long-term and short-term to see if there has been clear improvement, deterioration or if there has been little or no overall change.

Data are the latest available at 30 June 2015. Where possible, indicators have been presented for the United Kingdom. Where UK data are not available, indicators may be presented for England and Wales combined, or for England.

The Sustainable Development Indicator set was launched by DEFRA in 2001, and following consultation in 2012 a streamlined set was published in 2013. The first results from this revised indicator set were published in July 2013. While DEFRA retain the policy lead for this work, ONS took responsibility for updating and publishing SDI's in 2014.

Back to table of contents

2. Main points and summary of assessment

Figure 1 shows the number of measures which are showing improvement, deterioration or no change in the long-term and short-term. A long term assessment of change is made when there a comparison can be made over at least 10 years, that is 11 years of data. A short term assessment is made between the latest year and the year 5 years before, that is 6 years of data. Further information can be found in the Appendix and the 'How the assessment is made' sections of this publication.

  • Overall, 22 out of 60 indicators or measures showed an improvement over the long-term, and 22 showed improvement over the short-term.

  • Overall, 8 out of 60 indicators or measures showed deterioration over the long-term, and 10 showed deterioration over the short-term.

  • There has been an increase in the number of economic indicators or measures showing an improvement, (from 7 in 2014 to 8 in 2015) and a decrease in those assessed as deteriorating (from 6 in 2014 to 4 in 2015).

  • The number of environmental indicators or measures showing an improvement fell over both the long and short term. The number of indicators or measures showing a fall over the long term fell from 11 in 2014 to 10 in 2015, the number falling over the short term indicators fell from 13 in 2014 to 12 in 2015.

  • The number of society indicators showing a long term improvement has increased (from 3 to 6 between 2014 and 2015) this has been countered by an decrease in the number of short term assessments (from 11 to 8).

  • The number of environmental indicators or measures classified as 'deteriorating' increased (from 4 in 2014 to 5 in 2015) for both long and short term measures.

  • The number of households in fuel poverty in 2013 is estimated to be the lowest since 2006.

  • The number of overweight or obese adults is assessed as deteriorating over the long and short term. 62.1% of adults in England were overweight in 2013.

  • The increase in the rate of recycling of household waste in England has slowed, growing by just 0.5% between the financial year ending 2012 and the financial year ending 2014.

  • Overall, measures for UK breeding bird populations are deteriorating over both the long and short term, except for the short term measure for woodland birds which shows little or no change.

Summaries of long and short term change for each of the three areas - Economy, Society and Environment are presented next, followed by data for each indicator and measure and reasons given for their inclusion in the SDI set.

Summary of change for Economy

The table gives a summary of the long and short term changes for Economy.

Summary of change for Society

The table gives a summary of the long and short term changes for Society.

Summary of change for Environment

The table gives a summary of the long and short term changes for Environment.

Back to table of contents

3. Economy

There has been a recent increase in the number of economic indicators showing an improvement, (from 7 in 2014 to 8 in 2015) and a decrease in those assessed as deteriorating (from 6 in 2014 to 4 in 2015).

Of all those improving, 2 are as a result of there now being enough data (at least 10 years), to make an assessment of long term change. These were the 'Stock of human capital' and 'Total non-financial assets net worth'.

All the measures that are assessed as deteriorating in 2015 were also deteriorating in 2014. The measure for 'Adults unemployed for over 12 months' is assessed as showing little or no overall change in 2015 against an assessment of deteriorating in 2014, which is consistent with the fall in unemployment in recent years as the UK recovers from the economic downturn. Although the long term assessment for 'Research and development related to environmental protection' has changed from deteriorating in 2014 to no overall change in 2015, caution should be used as recorded expenditure varies from year to year and the short term assessment has changed from improving to little or no overall change.

While no assessment of change is made against the measures of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), GDP has grown in recent years. However, the short term assessment of 'median income' is deteriorating. Again this is consistent with both low earnings growth in the last few years and with the 'GDP per capita' measure.

Headline Indicator 1: Economic prosperity

Economic prosperity generally means that the economy is doing well, and that most people have sufficient income. Comparing GDP and Median income gives an indication to economic prosperity.

Examining income distribution can reveal the inequalities within household income. Income distribution displays the spread of household income under £1000 per week.

Headline Indicator 2: Long-term unemployment

Extended periods of unemployment can impact on individuals and families, through loss of income, social isolation, sense of worth and other factors. Employment enables people to meet their needs and improve their living standards, and is an effective and sustainable way to tackle poverty and social exclusion for those who can work.

Headline Indicator 3: Poverty

Poverty can perpetuate from one generation to the next, and the proportion of children in poverty is a key issue for intergenerational well-being. Poverty is measured by the proportion of children living in households with incomes below 60% of the median.

Headline Indicator 4: Knowledge and skills

The concept of human capital is broad and encompasses a range of personal attributes, such as people’s health conditions. However, in practical terms the focus of measurement has been limited to people’s skills, knowledge and abilities, and in particular on the role of formal education and training in developing them.

Human capital is recognised as having important economic benefits; for example, there is a link between increased human capital (as measured by qualifications) and economic growth. For this indicator, the measurement of human capital has been restricted to people’s skills1 and abilities.

Supplementary Indicator 5: Population demographics

Population and population growth are key drivers behind many challenges for sustainable development as population growth increases the pressure on resources and services. Household projections are an indication of the likely increase in households given the continuation of recent demographic trends. Household formation may increase the pressure for housing or resources and services.

Supplementary Indicator 6: Debt

Supplementary Indicator 7: Pension provision

Financial security is an important contribution to personal well-being, and pension provision is an important aspect of a sustainable economy. A lack of adequate pension provision (particularly for an ageing population) would have long-term consequences for the sustainability of public finances, the economy and society.

Supplementary Indicator 8: Physical infrastructure

A sustainable economy has to maintain the physical capital needed to support production. This measure looks at the extent to which the UK is improving its stock of fixed capital, as measured by the value of its tangible asset base2.

Supplementary Indicator 9: Research and development

Business innovation and research and development are vital ingredients in raising the productivity, competitiveness and growth potential of modern economies. The indicator compares cash terms (the actual amount spent) and real terms (prices indexed to 2013). By looking at the real terms we can see how much spending has actually increased (whilst controlling for inflation) which allows a better perspective on actual changes in spending.

Research and development specific to environmental protection by business is important to a sustainable economy through businesses minimising their impact and supporting the local environment.

Supplementary Indicator 10: Environmental goods and services sector

Moving towards a green economy includes developing opportunities and markets for environmentally oriented goods, services and jobs. The low carbon and environmental goods and services sector could be a key part of future social and economic prosperity.

Notes for economy:
  1. This measure is based on the value of qualifications gained during education, including early childhood education, school-based compulsory education, post-compulsory vocational or general education, tertiary education, labour market education and adult education. As the population grows, changes in human capital can be masked when looking at the stock measure, and we have therefore also presented human capital per head. This measure of human capital is currently experimental. Measures of human capital are still being developed and may have a slightly different form in the future.

  2. Tangible fixed assets comprise buildings and other structures (including historic monuments), vehicles, other machinery and equipment, and cultivated assets in the form of livestock and orchards.

Back to table of contents

4. Society

While the number of society indicators showing a long term improvement has increased (from 3 to 6 between 2014 and 2015) this has been countered by an decrease in the number of short term assessments (from 11 to 8). Within the headline measures 2 of the social capital indicators are now supplied by Understanding Society: 'volunteering' and 'those who feel they belong to their neighbourhood'. There is no short term assessment available for either of these or for the social mobility indicator. For the latter this is because the latest data are not directly comparable to earlier data, for the first 2 it is because the questions are not asked in each survey year.

Within the supplementary indicators, long term assessments of change are now available for all 3 mortality indicators, both 'trips under 5 miles' indicators, and for 'households in fuel poverty'. In addition a short term assessment of the 'prevalence of smoking among adults' is also available for the first time.

The smoking prevalence indicator and all 3 mortality indicators are assessed as improving while both 'trips under five miles' and 'fuel poverty' are assessed as showing little or no change. However the number of households in fuel poverty in 2013 is estimated to be at its lowest since 2006. Despite some small increases in the latest year the mortality rates for 'avoidable', 'preventable' and 'amenable' deaths all continue on a downward trend. Obesity among adults in 2013 was at its second highest rate since 1993 at 62.1%, only 2010 at 62.8% was higher. Healthy life expectancy for both men and women continues to increase, reaching 64.2 years for men and 66.1 year for women in the period 2009 to 2011.

Headline Indicator 11: Healthy life expectancy

As life expectancy continues to increase, it is important to understand whether increasing longevity is accompanied by longer periods in favourable or unfavourable health states. Variations in the proportion of life spent in good health have impacts on general health and well-being as well as having potentially significant implications for future healthcare resource need and fitness for work in the face of planned state pension age increases.

Headline Indicator 12: Social capital

Civic participation, social participation, social networks and trust

Social capital can be described as the pattern and intensity of networks among people, and the shared values which arise from those networks. While definitions vary, the main aspects include personal relationships, social networks and civic engagement and trust and co-operative norms1. These measures may change slightly over time as Cabinet Office and the Office for National Statistics further develop their work on measuring social capital.

Headline Indicator 13: Social mobility in adulthood

Patterns of inequality and a lack of social mobility can carry over from one generation to the next and this is a key issue for intergenerational well-being. Improving social mobility is about making sure individuals can fulfil their potential, regardless of their own or their parents’ background.

Headline Indicator 14: Housing provision

As the number of households increases so too does the need for an adequate housing supply. Additional housing provision offers economic and social sustainability and should be looked at alongside other aspects of sustainable development.

Supplementary Indicator 15: Avoidable mortality

This indicator presents mortality figures for causes of death that are considered avoidable with timely and effective healthcare, or public health interventions (avoidable mortality). Also presented are trends in mortality by causes considered preventable (if the death could be avoided by public health interventions) or amenable (treatable) to healthcare, which are subsets of total avoidable mortality.

Supplementary Indicator 16: Obesity

Obesity is one of the most serious risks to health in Europe, being linked to diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and cancer. Overweight children are of particular concern, because when unhealthy food habits and an inactive lifestyle continue over years the result is obesity.

Supplementary Indicator 17: Lifestyles

This indicator features in the Public Health Outcomes Framework for England. Smoking is an unhealthy lifestyle choice that is linked with a range of long-term health problems.

The use of sustainable local travel contributes to improvements in road safety and in public health. This indicator shows the proportion of all trips under five miles by English residents living in an urban area (settlement over 3,000 population) where the main mode of transport was walking or cycling, and public transport.

Physical activity is a core aspect of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Lack of sufficient physical activity costs the NHS over £1bn per year to the wider economy – and is one of the top risk factors for premature mortality. This indicator is aligned with the Public Health Outcome Framework (PHOF). Physical activity in this indicator includes sport, recreational cycling, recreational walking, walking and cycling for travel purposes, dancing and gardening. The PHOF defines physically active adults as those adults 'doing more than 150 minutes of at least moderate intensity physical activity per week in sessions of 10 minutes or more'.

Fruit and vegetables are key components to a healthy balanced diet and an important part of a healthy lifestyle.

Trends in fruit and vegetable purchasing from Defra’s Family Food Survey can be presented for low income groups. The statistics are not directly comparable with those from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey because of the different data collection methods used in the surveys. They also reflect portions bought rather than eaten, and do not take into account fruit and vegetables consumed as part of composite dishes.

Supplementary Indicator 18: Infant health

Birthweight can be an important indicator of community health and health inequalities, which are key issues for the long-term health of our society.

This indicator shows low birth weight of full term live births in England and Wales where the birth weight is less than 2,500g, and corresponds with the Public Health Outcome Framework indicators.

Differences in socio-economic groups

An analysis of low birth weight by the occupation of parents can highlight any differences between different socio-economic groups. This breakdown is not currently available for full term births so the analysis is presented for all live births. As such it includes premature babies and therefore the proportion of babies born with a low birth weight is higher in Figure 22.2 than in Figure 22.1.

Supplementary Indicator 19: Air quality

Poor air quality can have effects on health and well-being due to both short-term and long-term exposure. Individuals with existing heart or respiratory conditions are at greater risk of experiencing effects when levels of air pollutants rise. The number of days when air quality is 'moderate or higher' is an indicator of how often air pollution is raised to levels when there is an increased risk of health effects from short-term exposure.

Through improving air quality people will be at less risk from the effects of poor air quality, and may be more likely to spend more time in the natural environment. An improvement in air quality would be reflected by a lower number of pollution days in this indicator.

Supplementary Indicator 20: Noise

This indicator comprises information about noise complaints and exposure to transport noise. It also features in the Public Health Outcomes Framework for England. There are a number of direct and indirect links between exposure to noise and health outcomes such as stress, heart attacks, and other health and well-being issues. Complaints about noise are the largest single cause of complaint to most local authorities, and there is evidence that exposure to noise is a key determinant of health and well-being.

Supplementary Indicator 21: Fuel poverty

Fuel poverty is a serious problem from three main perspectives. The first is poverty, because high energy costs can exacerbate difficulties faced by those on low incomes. The second is health and well-being, because it is responsible for a range of issues such as social exclusion, cardiovascular problems and excess winter deaths. The third is carbon, because the energy inefficiency of the homes of those living in fuel poverty is a concern in terms of reducing carbon emissions.

Notes for society

  1. The indicators in this section have been chosen to reflect four domains of a framework on social capital developed by the Office for National Statistics. These four domains are: civic participation, which relates to individual involvement in local and national affairs and perceptions of ability to influence them; social participation, which means involvement in, and volunteering for, organised groups; social networks, which refers to contact with, and support from, family and friends; and reciprocity and trust which refers to the amount of trust individuals have in those they know and do not know, as well was trust in formal institutions.
Back to table of contents

5. Environment

The number of environment indicators showing a long term improvement has decreased (from 11 to 10 between 2014 and 2015) and (from 13 to 12) in the short term assessment. The number of indicators or measures assessed as 'deteriorating' has increased from 4 to 5 in both the long and short term assessments. In the long term assessment this is because the assessment of breeding seabirds has changed from little or no overall change to a deteriorating status. In the short term measures it is because, for the first time, an assessment has been made on the biological quality of rivers in England and this was assessed as deteriorating.

Within the headline measures, the amount of Greenhouse gas emissions associated with the UK, expressed as millions of tonnes (mt) of carbon dioxide (C02) continues to fall and is at the lowest point between 1990 and 2014 at 520mt (422mt as CO2) compared with 809mt (598mt as CO2) in 1990. The sector breakdown of water abstractions shows that abstractions for electricity supply have, for the first time, exceeded abstractions for public water supply, 45% and 42% respectively. The breeding bird population of the UK continues to show little sign of improving, with woodland birds showing little or no overall change in the short term being the only measure that is not deteriorating.

Within the supplementary measures, the carbon dioxide emissions by sector measure shows that transport is the only sector that has shown a long term increase in emissions, increasing from an estimated 72 million tonnes in 1970 to 117 million tonnes in 2014, an increase from 11% to 28% of all emissions between 1970 and 2014. While the total amount of emissions by the energy sector has fallen from 262 million tonnes to 153 million tonnes, its proportion of output is similar, falling from 38% in 1970 to 36% in 2014. The rate of recycling of household waste in England continues to increase. It is currently 43.5% but has slowed greatly, changing by half a percent in the last three years. The biological quality of rivers has deteriorated in the short term and the chemical quality of rivers is showing little or no overall change in the short term. However, both these assessments should be treated with caution until longer time series become available.

Headline Indicator 22: Greenhouse gas emissions1

Human emissions of greenhouse gases since the industrial revolution are very likely responsible for most of the global surface warming seen over recent decades.

Estimates of territorial emissions published by the Department for Energy and Climate Change cover only those emissions generated in the UK. Consumption emissions estimates published by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs relate to those associated with UK consumption, wherever in the world these emissions occur. This allows us to understand the overseas impact on emissions our consumption is having. For a more sustainable world, both our territorial emissions and our consumption emissions should decrease.

Headline Indicator 23: Natural resource use

Natural resource use is a consumption-based-indicator showing the amount of material used to meet UK consumption. A reduction in non-renewable resource use, either by switching to renewable materials from sustainable sources, or from increased resource productivity, would be a positive outcome. To examine changes in resource productivity, and the comparative changes in materials, an indexed time series against Gross Domestic Productivity (GDP) is used.

Headline Indicator 24: Wildlife

Natural capital includes those elements of the environment that provide resources and ecosystem services. We cannot determine our entire capital of natural resources and instead have to focus on selected aspects of the natural environment and changes in its state. Populations of key species of birds are a good indicator of the broad state of wildlife and countryside because they occupy a wide range of habitats and key positions in the food chain.

Headline Indicator 25: Water use

Water is a vital resource that needs to be managed carefully to ensure both that people have access to affordable and safe drinking water and sanitation, and that industry needs are met, without depleting water resources or damaging ecosystems. A decrease in abstraction over a period of several years means less water is being taken from surface and ground waters. As this indicator has been included to represent the state of our natural environmental (water) stocks, a decrease in abstractions has been assessed on balance as being a favourable outcome. Year-on-year estimated direct actual abstraction is likely to fluctuate up or down as a consequence of a range of factors; such as changes in abstraction licences, prevailing weather conditions and changes in patterns of water use. As such, an increase in abstraction may also be observed in the estimates.

Supplementary Indicator 26: UK Carbon Dioxide emissions by sector

The key sectors of the UK economy will produce differing amounts of emissions. To limit our impact on the world’s climate, it is important that all sectors emit less carbon dioxide over time.

Supplementary Indicator 27: Energy from renewable sources

Using renewable resources will make a strong contribution to our energy needs and allow us to be less reliant both on other countries and on non-renewable and less environmentally sound sources of energy.

Supplementary Indicator 28: Housing energy efficiency

More energy efficient dwellings are needed if the UK is to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Supplementary Indicator 29: Waste disposal and recycling

The types of waste we produce, all forms of waste management, and the transport of waste have impacts on the environment. Waste is a potential resource and increased rates of re-use, recycling and energy recovery will result in a lower proportion of waste being disposed of in a way that causes environmental damage.

Household waste

In order to move towards a European recycling society with a high level of resource efficiency, EU targets for re-use and recycling of household waste have been set. Under the Revised Waste Framework Directive, the EU has set a target for 50% of United Kingdom (UK) household waste to be recycled by 2020. The offical measure that the UK reports against this EU target is the 'waste from households' recycling rate, which is reported on a calendar year basis. This was a new measure introduced in 2014. The UK 'waste from households' recycling rate reached 43.9% in 2012, the latest calendar year for which data are currently available.

The previous measure used was a slightly broader 'household rate' recycling rate. Comparison of the 2 measures for England showed the recycling rates using the 'waste from households' measure was marginally higher. A longer time series of the 'household waste' recycling rate on a financial year basis is available and is shown in Figure 29.1 below to illustrate trends over the longer time period.

The EU has identified construction and demolition waste as a priority waste stream. Many of its components have a high resource value and there is high potential for recycling. This type of waste is also one of the heaviest and most voluminous waste streams generated in the EU. Under the Revised Waste Framework Directive, the EU has set a target for 70% of United Kingdom (UK) Construction and Demolition waste to be recovered from landfill by 2020.

The UK recovery rate from non-hazardous construction and demolition waste in 2012 was 86.5%.

Supplementary Indicator 30: Land use

Sustainable use of land is important in delivering new development, as well as protecting the natural and historic environment.

The ‘other uses’ category presented in Figure 30.1 only gives a very broad indication of what land is used for, and includes built-up areas as well as non-commercial agricultural area and other non-agricultural uses. As a result, more detailed figures on land cover have been presented in Figure 30.2, based on detailed satellite images taken between 2005 and 2008.

The data used in this chart (30.2) is not directly comparable to the data in Figure 30.1. It uses a different data source and data collection methodology, and shows the breakdown for the UK rather than England only.

This indicator is not assessed because the impacts of changes in land use vary depending on local circumstance. Therefore at a national level there is no clear favourable direction for the assessment to measure progress against. However, the indicator is included to provide some general context to patterns of development which can be considered alongside other indicators.

Supplementary Indicator 31: Origins of food consumed in the United Kingdom

Maintaining a range of supply sources means that any risk to our total food supply is spread. This lowers the impacts of any unforeseen disruptions involving any particular trading partner or from within our domestic agriculture sector. The production to supply ratio for food takes into account net trade. For 2014, the United Kingdom's (UK) production of indigenous type food, that is, food stuffs that the UK can produce domestically, was 76% of total supply.

Supplementary Indicator 32: Water quality

The indicator shows the biological quality of rivers using data from the Water Framework Directive assessment of water body status.

This indicator shows the chemical status of rivers using data from the Water Framework Directive assessment of water body status. Chemical status is assessed from compliance with environmental standards for chemicals that are priority substances and/or priority hazardous substances. A list of priority substances can be found in the Chemical Standards database on the Environment Agency’s website.

Supplementary Indicator 33: Sustainable fisheries

Fish are an integral component of marine biodiversity. They are an important element of the food chain for seabirds, seals, whales, dolphins, and porpoises, and are a very important source of food for people. Sustainable fisheries will help to ensure our marine ecosystems remain diverse and resilient, and provide a long-term and viable fishing industry.

Supplementary Indicator 34: European protected species and habitats

This indicator shows progress with maintaining and/or restoring favourable conservation status for species and habitat types that the UK has European level conservation responsibilities for. This assessment occurs every six years. Trends in unfavourable conservation status allow identification of whether progress is being made, as it will take many years for some species to reach favourable conservation status.

Notes for environment
  1. The data from this indicator is derived from the UK greenhouse gas emission statistics produced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The indicator focuses on the basket of greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto protocol.
Back to table of contents

6. How the assessment is made

When changes in the indicator measures are small it can be difficult to judge whether they are sufficient to indicate that there has been clear improvement or deterioration. For this reason, each measure has been assessed using a 'traffic light' system. They show whether changes in the trends are showing clear improvement or deterioration. Further details of what the assessment measures are can be found in the background notes of this article.

The change in an indicator or measure is assessed over a set time. The value at the start year is compared to the value at the end year. Where data are available, two assessment periods have been used:

  • Long-term – an assessment of change since the earliest date for which data are available (usually back to 1990). If the earliest data available is after 2000 a minimum of 11 years is required for an assessment to be made.

  • Short-term – an assessment of change for the latest five-year period.

The traffic lights only show the overall change in the measure from the start year to the end year, and do not reflect fluctuations during the intervening years.

The individual measures also have a third marker, showing the direction of change between the two most recent data points. This period is too short for a meaningful assessment. However, when it exceeds a one percentage point threshold, the direction of change is given simply as an acknowledgement of very recent trends, and as a possible early sign of emerging trends.

Making the assessment

The traffic light assessments are as follows:

Where data are not available for the relevant time period, an assessment is not given. If a comparison cannot be made over at least an 11 year period, for example 2002 to 2012, a long-term assessment cannot be made. This is shown as not assessed:

Where possible, the traffic light assessment has been made by evaluating trends using statistical analysis techniques. A green or red traffic light is only applied when there is sufficient confidence that the change is statistically significant.

Where it has not been possible to formally determine statistical significance, an assessment has been made by comparing the difference between the value of the measure in the base or start year and the value in the end year against a ‘rule of thumb’ threshold. The standard threshold used is three percentage points. Where an indicator value has changed by less than the threshold of three percentage points, the traffic light has been set at amber, signifying little or no overall change.

A minority of indicators do not have an assessment. This may be for a number of reasons:

  • The indicator is for context, where no action from government would intentionally affect change (for example, projected population estimates).

  • The indicator is based on forecasts or projections and as such the assessment year is unclear (for example, forecasts of public sector net debt and borrowing).

  • There is no clear ‘favourable’ direction of travel (for example, with land use or origins of food). A full explanation of the reasons for this is given in the relevant section.

Back to table of contents

7. Changes to this year's publication

A number of changes have been made this year including layout, changes of source, definition and methods of assessment. Where there have been changes, these are listed below:


The layout of the article has changed this year so that headline and supplementary indicators and measures for each section (Economy, Society, Environment) have been brought together and the affected indicators renumbered accordingly. This has been done to simplify the layout of the publication and to allow for easier analysis of each of the sections.

Indicator 5: Population demographics

Data for this indicator are now published on a United Kingdom basis, instead of England as previously reported.

Indicator 9: Research and development

Data for indicator 9.2, Expenditure on research and development related to environmental protection expenditure, are now in constant prices, that is, adjusted for inflation. In previous publications the data were presented in current prices, that is, not adjusted for inflation.

Indicator 10: Environmental Goods and Services Sector

Data for this indicator are now supplied by the Office for National Statistics on a United Kingdom basis. Previous data were supplied by Business and Innovation (BIS) and were England only.

Indicator 11: Healthy life expectancy

Data are now presented for the United Kingdom, instead of England only.

Indicator 12: Social capital

Proportion of people volunteering. This is now supplied by Understanding Society and is for the United Kingdom. Previously data were taken from the Taking Part survey for England.

Those with someone to rely on. This is now supplied by Understanding Society and is for the United Kingdom. Previously data were taken from the Taking Part survey for England.

Trust in neighbourhood. This is now supplied by Understanding Society and is for the United Kingdom. Previously data were taken from the Taking Part survey for England.

Indicator 15: Mortality

All data are now presented for England and Wales, instead of England only.

Indicator 18: Infant health

Full term babies with birth weight less than 2500g. Data are now presented for England and Wales, instead of England only.

Full term babies <2500g based on parent's occupation. Data are now presented for England and Wales, instead of England only.

Indicator 17: Lifestyles

Prevalence of smoking among adults. There was previously no method of assessment for this indicator. It will now be assessed against the Public Health England target for cessation of smoking among adults.

Trends in purchase of fruit and veg. There was previously no method of assessment for this indicator. It is now assessed using standard errors.

Indicator 24: Wildlife

The geography for Wild birds has now been corrected to United Kingdom, instead of England, as listed in previous publications.

Indicator 27: Gross energy from renewable resources

The method of assessment used now is the one for progress towards EU renewables target for the United Kingdom, in line with the method used in the National Well-being programme. The previous method used was based on three per cent change between periods.

Indicator 32: Water Quality

A short term assessment of change is now possible for both the biological and chemical status of rivers indicators. The classification for the chemical status of rivers has changed to High and Moderate, from Pass and Fail.

Back to table of contents

8. Sustainable development goals

ONS continues to coordinate the Government Statistical Services’ input into the global United Nations' development agenda for ‘Sustainable Development Goals' (SDGs)’ which will run from 2015 to 2030. The latest proposals for SDGs and targets comprise 17 Goals and 169 Targets. .

A key principle of the SDGs is to ‘leave no one behind’ and there is an expectation that indicators will need to be disaggregated for example by gender, disability, income and geographies. SDGs will be agreed at the United Nations Summit in September 2015 and ONS is developing a platform to monitor and report UK progress against SDGs from 2016.

ONS is also responsible for reporting on National Well-being as well as the Sustainable Development Indicators. It is anticipated there will be significant overlap with these data sets and SDG indicators. ONS is planning to align these reporting frameworks from 2016.

Back to table of contents

10.Methods of assessment of change

With more than 20 sources of data ranging from administrative to surveys measuring subjective opinions it is not possible to have one consistent method of assessing change. There are six methods of assessment used against the 66 indicators which can be assessed against. Of these a number are not assessed, this is because there is either insufficient data for an assessment or because an assessment is not suitable. The details for each indicator can be found on the Sustainable Development Indicators spreadsheet.

How are the change results calculated?

Regardless of the method used the outcomes consist of Improving, Deteriorating, Little or no overall change or Not assessed/applicable. An indicator is regarded as improving if the change between periods is greater than the threshold value (in a favourable direction). Likewise a change which is greater than the threshold value but in an unfavourable direction is regarded as deteriorating. Changes in either direction that are within the threshold values are presented as showing little or no overall change. The methods of assessment used are confidence intervals, standard errors, 3 per cent change, 3 percentage point change, recognised targets and in a very small number of instances, positive or negative change supported by expert opinion. Wherever possible confidence intervals or standard errors are used to assess change, where these are either not available or no appropriate another method is used. Each of these is described below.

Confidence intervals

Survey results are always estimates, not precise figures. This means that they are subject to a level of uncertainty which can affect how changes, especially over the short term, should be interpreted. Two different random samples from one population are unlikely to give exactly the same survey results, which are likely to differ again from the results that would be obtained if the whole population was surveyed. The level of uncertainty around a survey estimate can be calculated and is commonly referred to as sampling error.

We can calculate the level of uncertainty around a survey estimate by exploring how that estimate would change if we were to draw many survey samples for the same time period instead of just one. This allows us to define a range around the estimate (known as a “confidence interval”) and to state how likely it is that the real value that the survey is trying to measure lies within that range. Confidence intervals are typically set up so that we can be 95% sure that the true value lies within the range – in which case this range is referred to as a “95% confidence interval”.

Standard errors

The term "standard error" is used to refer to the standard deviation of various sample statistics such as the mean or median. For example, the "standard error of the mean" refers to the standard deviation of the distribution of sample means taken from a population.

The smaller the standard error, the more representative the sample will be of the overall population. The standard error is also inversely proportional to the sample size; the larger the sample size, the smaller the standard error because the statistic will approach the actual value.

Three percent rule

When confidence intervals or standard errors are not available a percentage difference of three percent is used to assess whether an indicator is improving or declining. Any increase or decrease of less than three percent is assessed as little or no change.

Three percentage point rule

When an indicator is expressed in percentage terms a percentage change movement can exaggerate the size of the change. For these indicators a more accurate assessment can be calculated by using a change of three percentage points.

Recognised targets

A number of measures are assessed against agreed and recognised targets. These can include targets such as the Public Health England cessation of smoking amongst adults or the EU 2020 recycling target. Where an indicator is already exceeding a target it is assessed as Improving, for others progress towards meeting a target by a set date is assessed. Where progress indicates that the target will be met the indicator is assessed as improving. If progress is less than that required to meet the target the indicator is assessed as showing little or no overall change. If an indicator is showing negative growth it is assessed as deteriorating.

Positive or negative change

For the Median income measure a straightforward increase or decrease, supported by advice from colleagues in Economic Well-being branch forms the basis for the assessment of change.

Back to table of contents

11.Background notes

  1. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/code-of-practice/index.html or from the Media Relations Office email: media.relations@ons.gsi.gov.uk

    These National Statistics are produced to high professional standards and released according to the arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority.

Back to table of contents

Contact details for this Article

Ian Macrory
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 455680