As the dust settles on a weekend of protest against the coalition government’s economic policies, it’s time to reflect on Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget – specifically, what it means for medical research in the UK, and for charities in general.
There were announcements in two major areas of the budget that were of direct relevance to our work – both in how we raise money and how we then use that money to fund research.
But are the announcements likely to achieve what they promise?
Regulating health research
‘In life sciences…we will radically reduce the time it takes to get approval for the clinical trials.’ – George Osborne
In January 2011, the Academy of Medical Sciences published their review of regulation and governance of health research. Their key recommendation was to set up a new agency for health research to streamline the way its regulated in the UK, which has been discussed in parliament on many occasions over the last few weeks.
Both the Budget and the accompanying growth strategy outlines, for the first time, how the Government plans to take forward some of the key recommendations of the Academy’s review. They outline two key proposals (full list here):
- They will set up a new health research regulatory agency this year to streamline and improve the cost effectiveness of clinical trials. This will combine and streamline approvals for health research which are at present scattered across many organisations.
- Funding from the National Institute of Health Research to NHS organisations who conduct research will now depend on those organisations approving studies for patient recruitment within 70 days.
The commitment to set up a health research regulatory agency is great news, and we’re looking forward to more detailed proposals, outlining exactly what this agency will be responsible for. This, combined with the introduction of the 70 days limit is a positive step forward, and together with other initiatives will deliver significant change in this area if implemented fully.
As our Executive Director of Policy and Public Affairs, Aisling Burnand, pointed out in a comment to the media, it’s absolutely critical that these barriers are removed, in order that the UK is an attractive place to conduct health research and, most importantly, so that patients can benefit.
For example, evidence suggests that patients treated in places where research is undertaken often experience better treatment. We believe that as many patients as possible should have the opportunity to take part in timely research that could help their condition.
Aisling went on to add:
Today’s announcement represents a step forward in implementing the key recommendations of the Academy of Medical Sciences review, and we look forward to working closely with Government to take forward these announcements to ensure that they are implemented effectively. We need to remove the local bureaucracy and duplication that stops health research getting off the ground quickly, so that as many patients as possible can benefit from research.
‘A big help for the Big Society’
The Chancellor also announced a raft of measures to help charities, which he described as ‘the most radical and most generous reforms to charitable giving for more than twenty years’.
The Government has shown a strong interest in the charity sector since coming to power, with its focus on the omnipresent ‘Big Society’ and the publication of a Green Paper looking at how to create a ‘social norm’ of giving in December.
Gift Aid, which allows charities to claim back tax, at the basic rate, on donations made by UK taxpayers, raised us £27 million last year. This could cover the cost of running ten laboratories in our London Research Institute for about three years.
The Budget simplified the scheme, with an online database for Gift Aid claims, and a scheme allowing charities to claim Gift Aid on small donations up to £5000 without filling out any forms – this will be worth up to £1250 per charity per year.
While these are welcome moves, so-called ‘transitional relief’ on Gift Aid – whereby the Government kept Gift Aid claims at the higher rate of income tax when it fell in 2006 – comes to an end next month. This will cost charities £100 million each year.
The changes announced in the Budget will not make up for this shortfall. That said, it would be naïve to expect more money in the current economic climate, and we’re still pleased to see such a strong focus on charities.
Legacies and Inheritance Tax
The Budget also promised a 10 per cent reduction in inheritance tax for people who leave 10 per cent or more of their estate to charity.
But how this will work in practice is still to be properly ironed out – the Government plans to consult on the details of this in the summer. We’ll be keeping a close eye on proceedings to see what this will mean for Cancer Research UK.
George Osborne also committed to look at how people can be encouraged to take up what’s known as Payroll Giving. This works by employees signing up to a monthly donation which comes straight out of their pay and is therefore tax-effective, meaning that donations can be increased by up to 40 per cent at no cost to the donor.
We do fundraise through payroll giving, but has never fully realised its potential. We think this is a great idea and we will let the Government know our thoughts on how it can be improved.
In conclusion, this was a day of big announcements for both medical research and charity policy, and Cancer Research UK will be closely monitoring how these proposals are taken forward over the next few months.
Emma and Heather
Emma Greenwood and Heather Walker are policy researchers at Cancer Research UK
Image from Wikimedia Commons