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UK leads the global effort to address data gaps

By 2050, there are projected to be 2.1 billion people aged 60 or over in the world – more than double the estimated number of 962 million in 2017. People are living longer, which is to be celebrated, but are we set up to understand the implications of larger numbers of older people on society, the economy and the individual? The United Nations 2030 agenda for sustainable development pledged to ‘leave no one behind’ in its goals to eradicate poverty and ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity, equality and in a healthy environment. With an increasing number of older people across the world, it is essential that we have better data, disaggregated by age, to help make better decisions.

The UK has been asked to lead the global effort to address data gaps, and in March 2018 the ‘Titchfield City Group on Ageing and Age-disaggregated data’ was formally endorsed by the UN. This is an active collaboration involving more than 40 countries and many UN agencies and charities who are all committed to improving data so that the lives of older people can be better measured, and the right decisions can be made. Last month I had the pleasure of opening the first official meeting of the group in Chichester.

The key to getting a global initiative off the ground is partnership: building coalitions of support across countries in all regions of the world and with networks of official and non-government organisations. In this case HelpAge International and the Department for International Development (DFID) led the initial thinking. They were soon joined by several UK agencies and with the Office for National Statistics’ support, other global statistical offices also joined, as this timeline shows.

Most of our time in Chichester was spent getting into the detail of what we need to do, including discussions on assessing available evidence, clarifying concepts of what we want to measure and how we get comparable data across countries. We also heard examples of new and interesting work on ageing in Japan, India, Iran, South Korea and the UK. Working across different countries and time zones is a challenge, so we spent a bit of time setting out how we will work together. I will report back to the UN next March on our progress.

We had fun too, Chichester is an attractive UK city with Roman history and a pleasant marina to explore on a hot sunny evening. Watching the World Cup in a 160-year-old pub (formerly a church) also proved a great way to develop international relationships.

John Pullinger
John Pullinger
John Pullinger is the National Statistician. He is the UK Statistics Authority’s and the Government’s principal adviser on official statistics. He is the Head of the Government Statistical Service (GSS) and, as the Authority’s Chief Executive and Permanent Secretary, is a member of the Board of the UK Statistics Authority.