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What the Budget 2021 means for research

by Oliver Buckley-Mellor | Analysis

29 October 2021

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The Comprehensive Spending Review has set out the Government’s spending plans for the next three years, including a boost in health research investment. But what do these plans mean for our research community and its work?

In his speech, the Chancellor stressed the importance of research and innovation, including the life sciences, and his announcements appear broadly positive for health research.

Rishi Sunak announced the Government would spend £20bn on R&D by 2024-25 and £22bn by 2026-27 – delaying the original target by two years. Whilst this delay is disappointing, year-on-year increases to R&D funding are still provided at a time when public spending is under increased scrutiny.

Boost for health research

This investment includes £5bn for health research, rising to £2bn a year by 2024-25, which represents £1.2bn of new spending between now and 2025. Not all of this funding has been allocated yet and most of this uplift occurs in the final year (2024/25) – we will engage with the Government on those decisions – but we do know it provides:

  • £95m for the Office for Life Sciences to deliver the Government’s Life Sciences Vision, including its commitments to cancer.
  • £30m for the National Institute for Health Research to invest in research skills and training for underrepresented groups, including nurses, midwives, and allied health professions.
  • Support for UK genomics, including programmes to screen for rare diseases and improve representation and inclusion in genomics research.

In our recommendations to the Treasury we asked for increased funding for clinical research. If this additional investment is spent effectively, then it could provide much-needed support for cancer researchers and help deliver recommendations made in our Creating Time for Research report.

Investment in R&D

Alongside the boost in health research investment, the Chancellor also announced that:

  • Core research funding for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy would not change from last year’s budget. However, the department will receive an additional £100m in 2024-25, for a total of £5.9bn.
  • The high-risk, high-reward Advanced Research and Invention Agency remains on track to launch in 2025-26 – though no additional funding was announced.
  • Innovate UK’s annual budget will increase to £1.1bn by 2024-25, up from £0.7bn in 2021-22.

Support for international research

Finally, the Chancellor made several commitments to international research:

  • The full cost of associating to Horizon Europe will be met, though formal association has yet to be finalised – this spending is included in the overall R&D spending plans described above.
  • Overseas Development Aid (ODA) spending on R&D will increase to £1bn by 2024-25, up from £0.6bn in 2021-22. This increase follows the Government’s decision to reverse the planned cuts to ODA and may present opportunities for cancer-related research abroad.
  • To bring high-skilled talent to the UK’s science and technology sectors, the Government will launch a Global Talent Network in the United States and India in 2022 – although no specific spending for this has been announced yet.




Oliver Buckley-Mellor is a policy advisor at Cancer Research UK