The SDGs must leave no one behind

22nd March 2016

Many of the poorest and most marginalised groups have not benefitted enough from progress on the Millennium Development Goals. Tanvi Bhatkal of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) explains why a shift in attitude and policy is needed.

In September, governments from around the world met at the United Nations General Assembly to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As part of the proceedings, a high level event took place on ‘leave no one behind’ – a global agenda to reveal those most marginalised from development over the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) era and ensure they are not left behind in the next global drive to deliver progress for all.

A recent ODI report underlines just how deeply entrenched marginalisation is, how vulnerabilities often overlap to amplify disadvantages, and just how little we know about some groups that are likely to be deprived. A new ODI film, made in Ghana and shown at the high level event and accompanying the report, illustrates what life can be like when you’re part of a group being ‘left behind’.

Excluded from progress

Overall, over the last 15 years, there has been significant progress in reducing poverty in terms of income and in relation to health, education and living standards. Yet, the experiences of different groups and individuals within countries diverge. And many of the poorest and most marginalised groups have not benefitted enough from progress.

The new SDGs explicitly recognise the disadvantages faced by certain groups and stress the need to leave no one behind. They identify a series of groups that are over-represented across several indicators of deprivation, including older people, people with disabilities, ethnic and religious minorities, women and girls, and sexual minorities, among others.

For instance, a study across 33 countries found that more than two thirds of people marginalised in education and health lived in households where the ‘head’ was a member of an ‘ethnic minority group’.

About a third of children out of school are disabled and people with disabilities complete fewer years of schooling on average.

Only one in five older people have a pension, according to UNFPA and HelpAge International, and this share is even lower in developing countries.

Further, all people belonging to a particular group do not experience exclusion equally. Intersections of group-based characteristics often overlap, leading to considerable disparities within groups.

A universal perspective

Marginalisation is an issue not only restricted to developing countries: developed countries also have pockets of marginalisation. For instance, a study across 11 European countries showed that the share of Roma people at risk of poverty (with under 60 per cent of national median income) was between 78 per cent and 97 per cent, compared to national averages of between 10 per cent and 22 per cent. In the United States, while 10 per cent of the general population identify as LBGT, this number rises to 40 per cent among youth who are homeless.

Disadvantaged groups also often face high levels of distrust and discrimination based on their identity. For instance, in the World Values Survey conducted between 2010 and 2014, more than half of respondents in 39 out of 59 countries reported that they did not trust people of a different nationality from them. In 60 countries, on average, 4 in 10 people expressed the view that when jobs are scarce, men have a greater right to work than women.

Progress will need to reach the bottom billion to ensure that no one is left behind by 2030. This will entail a normative shift in entrenched attitudes and concerted policies to improve the access of disadvantaged groups to social, economic and political opportunities. Every person counts and deserves a fair chance in life, no matter who they are or where they live.

Read the Eldis series on the Sustainable Development Goals here on the blog.