Social scientists urge 10 per cent uplift in budget for science and innovation

24 February 2015

James Wilsdon

The £4.7 billion annual budget for science and innovation should increase by at least 10 per cent in real terms over the next parliament, the Campaign for Social Science says in a report on the prospects for social science over the next decade.
Read the Report | Media coverage

At the launch of the report on 24 February, Greg Clark MP, Minister for Universities, Science and Cities, talked about the value of social science.

The Business of People: The Significance of Social Science over the Next Decade also calls for a new senior Whitehall social science adviser, more investment in Big Data, social science advice for MPs and members of the devolved administrations and more explicit recognition for social science in government strategy.

It says additional funds for science and innovation should be earmarked for research that brings together the perspectives of the physical and life sciences with those from social science, the arts and humanities.

The report warns that UK growth and prosperity will falter without a better grasp of human behaviour and public attitudes, especially in the service sector of the economy. Failing to understand the socio-economic dimensions of innovation could jeopardise the potential of new technologies and advances in the life sciences, physics and engineering. The report gives the recent example of Ebola and infectious disease, which can only be combatted through understanding people and communities.

Professor Jane Elliott, chief executive of the Economic & Social Research Council, another speaker at the launch event, said: ‘Social science is vital to a vibrant and fair society. The UK’s world-class research enables us to better understand our communities, institutions and economy. The impact it has is extremely valuable in both human and economic terms.’

Campaign chair Professor James Wilsdon said: ‘Whatever the outcome of the general election, the challenges facing the UK demand the skills, insights and imagination of social scientists. Growth, health, security and wellbeing all depend on knowing how markets, organisations, individuals and households work, making investment in social science a critical component of the government’s strategy for science and innovation. It’s with confidence in the absolute necessity of social science that this report stakes its claim on scarce resources.’

Dr Michelle Harrison, Global Head of Social and Political Practice at TNS and a member of the report working group, noted that ‘Across many areas of public policy, and increasingly in the world’s leading corporations, we are seeing the increasing adoption of approaches that are at the heart of social science thinking, to tackle some of our biggest problems, whether they be to do with issues of governance or of corporate growth. Behavioural insight is one example, where social science is key to understanding how to communicate with citizens and consumers, and to encourage behaviour change for a better social outcome.’

The report urges the appointment of a chief social science adviser to work alongside Sir Mark Walport, the government chief scientific adviser, to ensure better mobilisation of knowledge for policymakers and oversee the pipeline of graduate students in vital areas of social science, moving into business and research.

Whitehall departments, along with the Westminster parliament and devolved institutions, must make more intensive use of social science in the years ahead if they are to cope with pressing questions around cities, transport, political alienation, social mobility, energy, health and wellbeing and climate change. R&D tax relief must recognise innovations in the way companies and public sector organisations work derived from social science expertise.

Professor Wilsdon added: ‘At the election and during the spending review that will follow, the Campaign has a robust case to make to the Treasury, ministers, MPs and policymakers. Support for research, data collection and education and training in social science are vital if we are to secure the benefits of innovation and productivity growth. Without more investment in social science, the UK will lose out. ’

Notes to editors:

1.   The Campaign for Social Science was set up in 2011 to inform public policy, build coalitions and engage in measured advocacy. It sprang from the Academy of Social Sciences (AcSS), whose thousand Fellows are eminent academics and practitioners in business, government and civil society; 47 learned societies are also members, representing 90,000 social scientists in varied settings.

2.   The Business of People: The Significance of Social Science over the Next Decade is published on February 24 by SAGE, its principal sponsor. It has been produced with the support of SAGE, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, British Sociological Association, Regional Studies Association, British Psychological Society, Nuffield Foundation and Royal Statistical Society. Over the next three months, the Campaign is running a series of ‘roadshows’ across England, Wales and Scotland, to promote discussion of the report’s conclusions.

3.   The science and research budget now stands at £4.7bn a year. Despite its ‘ring fence’, over the five years to 2015-16, it is estimated to have lost £1.1bn in value.

4.   The Business of People: The Significance of Social Science over the Next Decade will be launched on February 24th. Speakers at the launch include: Greg Clark MP, Minister for Universities, Science and Cities; Jane Elliott, Chief Executive of the ESRC; Sharon Witherspoon, Director of the Nuffield Foundation; and Dr Michelle Harrison, Global Head of Social and Political Practice at TNS.