Now that parliament has been dissolved and the election campaign is in full swing, we are moving into the second phase of our Tell them Science is Vital campaign.
All the candidates vying for your vote on May 7th will be out and about in your constituency. So if you meet them – in the street, at hustings or on the doorstep – we’d really like you to ask them about science funding.
Ask them about their plans to ensure that the UK retains the world-class research base needed to boost the economy and tackle many of the problems – healthcare, climate change, energy and food supply – facing the country. And if they don’t have a plan, give them some ideas!
Remember that the freeze on science spending since 2010 means that the budget has depreciated in real terms by up to 20%. In fact, it has now dropped below 0.5% of GDP for the first time in 20 years. The time to act is now.
What can you do?
We want you to help us push public investment in science and innovation to the forefront of candidates’ minds. To do that we are providing an eye-catching poster highlighting your support for science that you can put in the window of your house to be seen by any prospective candidate who might call.
We have also compiled a short set of questions that you might want to use when asking your candidate about what they can do to boost research in the UK:
I support the call by Science is Vital to increase this to at least 0.8% of GDP, the G8 average. Do you agree?
The most recent figures show that the UK spends less than 0.5% of GDP on public-funded research. This is less than any G8 country has invested in the last 20 years. We can be proud of being a fantastically efficient and productive scientific nation – with only 4% of the world’s scientists, the UK produces about 10% of the world’s research – but that prowess is threatened by a declining science budget.
Given the importance of science to the economy, healthcare and the environment, do you think we should start increasing what we spend on science?
In spite of the ring-fence, the government’s annual direct funding of science has reduced by about 15% over the course of this parliament – leading to a shortfall estimated by CaSE to be around £1bn. Yet public investment in R&D is vital for keeping the UK at the leading edge of knowledge-based economies. It generates rates of return of around 20%, directly contributing to economic growth. The evidence also suggests that publicly funded research also has positive impacts on national health, security and public sector productivity.
What is your stance on EU membership? If you favour withdrawal, what is your plan for restoring lost EU research funds and maintaining UK involvement in Europe-wide projects?
We know Europe is a contentious issue for many people. But science is very much an international endeavour and at the moment the UK competes very effectively for funds from the EU. The UK contributes 11% of the EU budget but wins 16% of the research funds that they allocate.
Do you think we should increase science funding to be commensurate with the size of the problems science is trying to solve?
Cancer kills nearly a third of us, and yet we spend just £4.30 per person per year on government-funded cancer research. It seems disproportionate that a disease responsible for so many deaths should receive less than £5 per person per year in research funding. What’s worse, it’s by far the best-funded condition: heart disease kills 15% of us and receives £1.30 per person per year in public research funding, and stroke kills 10% of us and we spend just 28p per person per year!
Please tell us your stories
If you have an interesting encounter with a candidate, please tell us about it by emailing us (jenny[at]scienceisvital.org.uk). We may be able to share your story either here, or on Twitter or on our Facebook page to inspire others to join in with the campaign.
Thanks for your support!