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What does the Autumn Statement mean for cancer research?

by Nick Peel | Analysis

5 December 2014

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The big news this week was the Government’s final Autumn Statement of this Parliament, and its future plans for taxation and spending. With new investment for roads, science, housing and energy projects, infrastructure took the centre stage in what’s being dubbed the Chancellor’s ‘high-vis’ manifesto.

Although the headlines were dominated by stamp duty and deficit reduction targets, the Chancellor, George Osborne, made several announcements that are likely to have an impact on our research, and may also affect the care that cancer patients receive in the NHS.

We reacted to some of them at the time on our Twitter feed, but our Policy and Public Affairs team have taken a look at some of these announcements in a bit more detail. We’ll continue to work on the key issues in the run up to the election, but here are our initial thoughts:

Extra money for the NHS

Despite being heavily trailed in the press in the preceding days, one of Osborne’s biggest announcements was to hand an extra £2 billion to frontline NHS services next year – part of a UK-wide £3.1 billion extra pot for the NHS over coming years.

This comes in response to the NHS Five Year Forward View, but still falls short of the £8 billion per year that Simon Stevens, CEO of NHS England, has been asking for.

We’re yet to hear the finer details of where the money will be spent, although we know £1bn will be invested in GP services. In September our chief clinician, Professor Peter Johnson, blogged about how cancer services are starting to struggle with the demand, and that services are in desperate need for further investment. So we hope that some of this money will go to relieving the pressure.

Emlyn Samuel, senior policy manager

A commitment to science

We know that as well as benefitting patients, investing in science is good for the economy.

It’s clear that the Chancellor understands the importance of science, recognising it as being ‘crucial’ to the UK’s economic future and a ‘personal priority’.

We’re now waiting to see whether this importance is reflected in the Government’s Science and Innovation Strategy, more details of which should emerge over the coming week.

The Autumn Statement did hint at a number of things we can expect to see in the strategy, mostly around how the Government plans to invest in research facilities.

At the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor said that the budget of £5.9bn over 2016-21 will be split roughly 50:50 between major new projects and investing in improving existing infrastructure.

The £2.9bn for major new facilities and projects will form the ‘Grand Challenges fund’. £800 million of this fund has already been pledged to particular projects, for example nearly £235m will go towards the Sir Henry Royce Institute for Advanced Materials Research and Innovation in Manchester, £113m will be spent on computing research at Hartree and £20m will go towards an innovation centre for ageing in Newcastle.

We hope that Government will allocate the rest of the Grand Challenges fund in a fair and transparent way. Their commitment to conduct an international peer review of proposals is a good start. We also want Government to make sure that some of this budget for 2016-21 is saved for a rainy day.

As well as investing in research facilities, the Autumn Statement also touched on a proposal that could better support scientists in training. After their undergraduate degree, most young people take a Masters course before starting their PhD. But it can be difficult for some budding scientists to afford the cost of the Masters course, which could stop them entering a career in science.

So Government is launching a new student loans scheme to support postgraduate students. From 2016-17, loans of up to £10,000 will be available for Masters students under the age of 30. Government expects this will enable around 10,000 more individuals to undertake postgraduate study each year.

Hollie Chandler, senior policy advisor

Support for charities

The Autumn Statement had some nuggets of good news for charities. We’ve got over 550 charity shops across the UK, and they raise vital funds for our work, as well as benefiting their local high street, the environment, and providing lots of opportunities for volunteers (not to mention the chance to find a good bargain!).

‘Business rates’ apply to retailers and other businesses, and in the Autumn Statement, the Government announced a review into the structure of business rates. We will be interested to find out more about what the government’s review will involve when more details are announced. Hopefully this will protect the really important business rate relief which means that our charity shops can continue their great work up and down the country.

The Government also said it wanted to ‘future-proof’ the Gift-Aid scheme – the mechanism by which charities can claim back tax on donations from the public. Gift Aid is incredibly valuable for Cancer Research UK – raising more than £30m for us in 2013/14.

We welcome the Government making efforts to ‘future-proof’ the scheme – but want to make sure that their intended changes to regulation concerning ‘intermediaries’ (organisations who may collect Gift Aid on behalf of charities) protects the ability of charities to contact donors so that we can thank them for their donation.

The Government also committed to review the benefits that supporters can receive from charities when they make a donation. We’d like to make sure this does not have any unintended consequences for charities. It’s great that HMRC will make their guidance simpler and easier to understand.

Sara Bainbridge, policy advisor

The tobacco industry

The Autumn Statement also saw a commitment from Government to launch a consultation on introducing a financial levy on companies that make and import tobacco.

By manufacturing and marketing products, which they know claim 100,000 lives a year in the UK, the tobacco industry has been the architect of irreparable damage to society.

Globally, the tobacco industry makes around £30bn a year; that’s £6,000 for every death their products cause. ‘Big Tobacco’ won’t make real change on its own. And, while it may be morally bankrupt, it’s financially flush. So it’s about time these companies paid to reduce the harm they knowingly cause.

Chris Woodhall, senior tobacco control officer

Find out more about our campaign to Cross Cancer Out

Cancer matters to all of us. So ahead of the General Election in May, we can all join the fight to beat cancer sooner.

Find out more about our campaign and how you can help us get cancer high on the political agenda now and in the next Parliament.

The Policy and Public Affairs team, Cancer Research UK


Image of George Osborne by HM Treasury, accessed via Flickr under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 license