On November 25th, Chancellor George Osborne will set out Government department budgets for the next five years. And there’s a real risk that the amount spent on science could be cut.
In the lead up to the review, Osborne has tasked Government departments with finding savings totalling £20 billion. And although we receive no Government funding for our research, we depend on Government’s investment in UK science to help support our ground-breaking research and ensure it ultimately benefits patients.
So we’re worried that the impending Spending Review might see science heading for the chopping block.
That’s why today our chief executive, Harpal Kumar, joined 198 other research organisations and investors in sending a letter to The Financial Times, urging the Government to protect science and keep the UK a global leader in research.
So why does this matter? Here are four reasons why protecting what Government spends on science is so important.
1: Research saves lives
Research helps develop more effective treatments for cancer. It also helps us understand how to prevent cancer, as well as diagnose it earlier. But that research – whether it’s funded through Government money or via generous public donations – will only truly benefit people and patients with Government support.
And a great example of this is the Bowel Scope screening test. As the timeline below shows, charity and industry funding for research that led to Bowel Scope relied on Government investment in universities and research facilities in the NHS. And as well as saving lives, Bowel Scope could also save the NHS around £300 million each year.
2: Science is good for the economy
As well as benefiting patients, investing in UK science also boosts the UK economy – something we’ve blogged about before.
We also know that science and innovation are important for getting the most out of the economy – called productivity. And the Government recently recognised this. For example, between 2000 and 2008, more than half of productivity growth in the UK was due to science and innovation.
High productivity is a good thing, and means that we are working more efficiently, and getting more out of what we put into the economy. And science plays a big part in that.
3: Our scientific research is world-class
Spotlight on the Spending Review
As well as protecting science, we also want the Government to invest money so that it can act on the recommendations set out in England’s new cancer strategy. And we have written to the Chancellor to tell him where investment is required.
This ranges from protecting tobacco control services to upgrading radiotherapy machines – if it helps prevent cancer or improves services, we’ve told him about it. One area we’re really pushing on is for more investment to help diagnose cancers earlier.
The UK ranks an impressive 2nd in the world for the quality of its scientific research.
And the Government needs to protect our global reputation. The more the UK is known for its research, the more investment and talent it will attract, supporting further success.
This is really important to our work at Cancer Research UK. The UK’s reputation has been instrumental in the creation of the new Francis Crick Institute – a joint venture involving charitable organisations, universities and government-funded teams. It has attracted 1,200 of the world’s best scientists, who will work together to tackle cancer, and other diseases, improving the lives of patients across the world.
4: It supports universities and hospitals
When the UK Government invests in science, it helps us, and industry, invest in important research happening in UK universities and hospitals. It also helps us to support the training of our scientists and doctors.
A report commissioned by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills estimated that every extra £1 the Government invests in science would lead to an increase in private funding (industry and charity) of between £1.13 and £1.60. Another valuable return on investment.
There’s also the Charity Research Support Fund, which pays for overhead costs such general lab maintenance and computer support, which are not covered by charities. In 2014, the Government provided £198 million through this fund, supporting charities to spend a staggering £805 million on research in English universities. Financial help to universities creates a supportive environment in which they can continue to research, innovate and help us beat cancer sooner.
The Government’s investment in research carried out within the NHS is also important so that we can run clinical trials, providing the latest treatments to patients faster.
For this to keep happening, the Government needs to protect the National Institution of Health Research’s budget in the Department of Health. And this will play a vital part in ensuring the NHS can achieve its five year plan for doing more research.
What are we doing to make sure science is protected?
Protecting science is important, and it’s something that affects all medical research. Because of this, we’re working with other charities and industry to ask the Government to protect UK science.
But that’s not all. We’ve also written to the Science and Technology committee – an expert group that ensures the Government’s policy decisions are based on sound science – outlining the evidence that we think it should consider in its inquiry into the science budget. The committee intends to use the findings from this inquiry to influence the Spending Review, and we hope our submission will convince them of the importance of research. You can read our full evidence submission to the committee here.
We’re also sending this evidence out to MPs, asking them to write to the Chancellor about maintaining the science budget.
Let’s hope they listen, and that science remains a priority.
Rachel Marnick is a policy development intern at Cancer Research UK
Update 15/09/15: If you want to tell the Government why protecting the science budget is important to you, join the Science is Vital campaign. Get involved by attending their rally on October 26th at 7pm in London or by writing to the Chancellor with your message using their online form.