Southerners get more life sciences funding than those in the North

North–South divide of England’s life sciences exposed: Southerners get more than TWICE as much investment per head from the Government than those in the North — and the Midlands is the hardest hit of all regions

  • The disparity in investment was highlighted in a report by think tank the IPPR
  • The North gets around £4 billion less annually for health research than the South
  • This inequality is incompatible with Government commitments, the IPPR said

Science in the South of England gets more than twice the investment per person from the Government than it does in the North, a think tank investigation has found.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) found that the North receives £4 billion less for health research a year than the South — and the Midlands is even harder hit.

Overall, scientists working on health research and development in the North receive around £72 of investment per person — compared to £168 in the South.

Of this, the North receives only £22 per person from the Government on average — two-fifths of the £56 invested per head in the South of England.

The Midlands, meanwhile, received less — at the equivalent of just £16 per person.

This level of inequality is incompatible with the Government’s commitments to ‘level up’ the UK economy, the IPPR report argues. 

The authors also noted that private sector investment in the field totals the equivalent of £50 per person in the North, less than half the £112 given to the South.

Science in the South of England gets more than twice the investment per person from the Government than it does in the North, a think tank investigation has found. Pictured, public and charity investment in health research in the UK between 2004 and 2018

To help address these imbalances and move forward, the IPPR report put forward a number of recommendations that could be implemented.

These included establishing an investment target of £14.5 billion each year for the life sciences from public, private and charity sources combined — as well as developing a new strategy to attract private investment in the field.

The life sciences has a strong case for investment prioritisation, the reported argued, as it ‘outperforms the UK economy on productivity’ and ‘provides significant return on investment’ of between £0.22–28 each year for every £1 invested.

Measures must be taken to ensure that more public funding flows beyond the South to other regions — including those in the North — the think tank urged.

‘Outside London and the south, the UK life science sector has huge potential. Yet, that potential is being limited by a serious inequality in R&D investment,’ said IPPR research fellow Chris Thomas.

‘If the Government is serious about making the UK a science superpower it will need to invest in the whole country and support regions like the north to develop their own industrial strategies, in a more devolved way, to fulfil their potential,’ he added.

‘The benefits would be substantial. A more diverse and regionally equal approach to R&D would boost productivity, support a more equal economic recovery from COVID-19 and help build UK resilience to future health shocks.’

‘COVID-19 is proof of how important this is. Entering the next decade without a coherent and progressive health R&D strategy would be like building a house on a volcano and not taking out insurance.’

The life sciences has a strong case for investment prioritisation, the IPPR reported argued, as it ‘outperforms the UK economy on productivity’ and ‘provides significant return on investment’ of between £0.22–28 each year for every £1 invested

The authors also noted that private sector investment in the field totals the equivalent of £50 per person in the North, less than half the £112 given to the South. Private research spend by UK region in the chemicals and pharmaceutical industry between 2013 and 2018

‘Investment in the life sciences is a critical part of our response to this pandemic and the health challenges we face as a nation,’ said the shadow minister for science, research and digital,’ Chi Onwurah.

‘But our investment doesn’t reflect regional science capacity or health needs as the IPPR analysis makes clear,’ he added.

‘The north receives less than half of the life science investment per head that the south of England does even though it has great teaching hospitals and significant health inequalities.’

‘We need to see that change as we invest in science to beat the pandemic and create new jobs across the country.’

The full findings of the report were published on the IPPR website.

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