The new Chancellor, Philip Hammond, set out the Government's spending plans today. Credit: Wikimedia Commons
It’s been a busy year in politics.
There’s a new government led by Theresa May, and a new Shadow Cabinet led by Jeremy Corbyn.
And Brexit became the word on everyone’s lips as Britain voted to leave the European Union.
So today’s Autumn Statement has been hugely anticipated.
And as the new Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has been pretty quiet since taking up the post, this was his first chance to lay out the direction the Government will be taking in the years ahead.
Since the EU referendum, it’s fair to say that there’s been some uncertainty. So there has been particular interest in how the Chancellor might set out his spending plans, and provide some clarity on what leaving the EU might mean for the UK economy.
But why does any of this matter to Cancer Research UK?
There were a number of important areas we were looking out for in today’s Statement that could affect cancer researchers and patients.
Here’s what was said.
Science and Research
There needs to be a strong research environment if we are to reach our ambition of three in four people surviving their cancer by 2034.
We’ve also had a think about how Brexit might impact research in the UK, and have blogged about this before.
The Government had already made some commitments to maintain the UK’s status as a world leader in science and we were optimistic that the Autumn Statement would bring further reassurances to researchers.
So we were pleasantly surprised when, ahead of the Autumn Statement, there was some good news on research and development funding. On Monday the Prime Minister announced an additional £2 billion investment per year by 2020 and this was reconfirmed in the Autumn Statement today.
To put this into perspective, this means a spending increase of around 20% in research and development by 2021.
— HM Treasury (@hmtreasury) November 23, 2016
We’re waiting for more details on exactly how this money will be spent but it’s great that the Prime Minister is indicating that science is a key priority for the Government. They must now work with industry and charities to ensure the investment is spent effectively to strengthen UK science.
And, earlier this year, government announced that it will be producing an Industrial Strategy, which will outline plans for growth.
This strategy is an important opportunity for government to put science at the heart of those plans, so patients can benefit from thriving UK research. We’ve already submitted our views to Parliament on this.
We’ve made no secret of that fact that we want to see government action to tackle children’s obesity. Obesity is the single biggest preventable cause of cancer after smoking, and the number of people who are obese in the UK is expected to rise.
That’s why we welcomed the announcement in the Budget earlier this year that the Government would be introducing a sugar tax – or soft drinks industry levy. We strongly support this measure to tackle children’s obesity, which could prevent 3.7 million cases of obesity over the next decade.
The Statement reaffirmed government’s commitment to introducing the sugar tax. And legislation to introduce this will begin on 5 December 2016. We’ll be following this closely to ensure the tax is introduced as quickly as possible.
While we’re really pleased about this measure, there’s so much more the Government can do to tackle children’s obesity. We’ve written about our thoughts on the Government’s children’s obesity plan before.
And, crucially, the Government missed the chance to introduce marketing restrictions on junk food advertising in this plan. We’ve made the case for this measure loud and clear and hundreds of our campaigners agree that action is needed on this, which is why they’re supporting our Junk Free TV campaign.
As we’ve said, there has been some good news on funding in today’s Autumn Statement. But we’ve also got some concerns.
Public health budgets have seen regular cuts, year on year. These budgets are given to local authorities to fund vital Stop Smoking Services. Our recent report found that 6 in 10 local authorities (59%) have now cut their local stop smoking service budgets.
These services are the most effective way to help people quit. With tobacco costing the UK £13.9bn every year, we think these public health cuts are short-sighted.
That’s why we’re running our ‘Don’t Quit on Us’ campaign, asking the Government to provide the funds local authorities need to run effective Stop Smoking Services and media advertising to encourage people to stop.
There will be plenty more details to come from today’s announcements, which we look forward to seeing.
But we’re feeling positive about the opportunities presented by the Industrial Strategy. And the Government’s commitment to science is a real step forward.
We’ll continue to work with Government to ensure the sugary drinks tax is implemented without delay, so we can start to tackle the growing challenge of children’s obesity.
And on tobacco, there’s still a long way to go to ensure smokers continue to have the support they need to help them quit.
So we’ll continue to make the case to the Chancellor.
Roxy Squire is a public affairs officer at Cancer Research UK