Centre for Social Impact at UNSW launches Australia’s first social progress index.

A new index to measure the quality of life for people across Australia was launched today by leading research organisation the Centre for Social Impact (CSI), which is based at UNSW Business School.

The Australian Social Progress Index (SPI) ranks states and territories on their social progress, providing the first-ever holistic measure of Australia’s social performance that is independent of economic factors.

CSI chief executive and UNSW Professor of Social Policy Kristy Muir said: “Gross Domestic Product (GDP) can often be a misleading measurement of progress as it tells us nothing about people’s quality of life.

“Australia has long needed an index that reveals how the people and environment are faring in each of our states and territories – and this is exactly what the SPI does.”

The SPI is a free, online resource that provides governments and organisations with the ability to measure their state or territory’s progress towards meeting people’s basic needs, foundations for wellbeing, and opportunity for all individuals to reach their full potential. It measures indicators key to wellbeing, such as ‘personal rights’, ‘nutrition and basic medical care’, and ‘access to higher education’.

By comparing the jurisdictions and tracking them over time, the index reveals which components of social progress are flourishing and where there are gaps.

“The purpose of the SPI is to ensure a clear, singular vision of what social progress looks like in Australia and encourage and support governments to see the gaps and commit to funding and outcomes solutions,” Professor Muir said.

“It’s important to note the findings are reflective of the policies and social contexts of the states and territories, not an indicator of how progressive individuals living in those jurisdictions are,” she said.

SPI key findings between 2015–2018:

  • The ACT has ranked consistently high in the SPI, ranking 1st every year.
  • WA and NT both ranked 7th and 8th in each year of the index.
  • The biggest areas for improvement across all states and territories are environmental quality, and access to information and communication.
  • These components were also impacted by a lack of comprehensive, accessible data, which is vital to developing the most representative index possible. Regular and robust data is needed across all states and territories.
  • There is a positive correlation between SPI scores and median net wealth of households, however there is a slight negative correlation when measured against Gross State Product per capita.
  • This reveals that social progress is linked to the economic resources available to individual households, however it also shows that blunt indicators like GDP or GSP are not an accurate reflection of what life is like for individuals or households.
  • The SPI offers a much more comprehensive view of the lives of people and societies within a state as it looks beyond economic factors alone. Individual experiences will vary according to a number of factors, such as cultural background, disability and whether you live in a metropolitan or remote context.

The Social Progress Index is already being used in more than 45 countries around the world as a tool to guide policymaking and investment decisions. For example, the European Commission is using the EU Regional Social Progress Index to inform allocation of 350+€ billion of ‘Cohesion’ funds to reduce inequalities between regions.

CSI lead researcher Megan Weier said: “We want to change the conversation around social outcomes and inequality in Australia using relevant facts and data, not just GDP.

“For the first time ever, we have a resource that provides a holistic measure of Australia’s social performance that is independent of economic factors.”

Media contact

Nicola Hannigan
02 8936 0915