Skip to main content

Together we are beating cancer

Donate now
  • Science & Technology
  • Health & Medicine

Spring budget 2024: What does it mean for our mission to beat cancer?

by Ian Caleb | Analysis

7 March 2024

0 comments 0 comments

Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt leaves 11 Downing Street, London, with his ministerial box before delivering his Budget in the Houses of Parliament
Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt leaves 11 Downing Street, London, with his ministerial box before delivering his Budget in the Houses of Parliament. Credit: James Manning/PA Wire

With the Parliamentary programme for the year mostly set, this year’s Spring Budget was one of the last moments for major political announcements that could happen this side of a General Election. 

We at Cancer Research UK believe that Governments should always take every opportunity to drive the health and research agendas. In Longer, better lives: A manifesto for cancer research and care, we put forward the case for what key decision makers should do to reduce cancer deaths, increase survival and improve the lives of those living with cancer. 

While some of the finer details can get lost amongst the wealth of announcements and numbers, here are some of the key points for what this budget means for our mission to beat cancer. 

Tobacco and prevention 

We welcomed the announcement of a one-off increase in tobacco duty as an effective measure to combat smoking. This, along with the new vaping products duty, will maintain the important price difference between cigarettes and vapes, encouraging people who smoke to quit and discouraging young people and those who have never smoked from taking up vaping. This must continue to be the case moving forward. 

We will be responding to the consultation on this policy to make the case that the UK Government should ensure it maintains the differential between cigarettes and vaping on an ongoing basis, and not just in the first year of the policy’s implementation. 

Cancer Research UK has been successfully campaigning for years for action to reduce smoking rates, most recently in our  Smokefree UK campaign. Smoking remains the biggest cause of cancer and death in the UK, and we know that smoking rates go down with government action. That’s why Cancer Research UK has been supportive of the news Government will introduce legislation to raise the age of sale of tobacco to create the first ever smokefree generation. If this policy is implemented, the country will be a trailblazer. We would urge the UK Government to introduce this bill at the first opportunity. 

In other prevention announcements, the Government’s extended freeze on alcohol duties until February 2025 runs counter to public health considerations. We support our colleagues at the Alcohol Health Alliance in their call to “ensure alcohol duty at least keeps pace with inflation and that all stronger products are always taxed at a higher rate than lower strength products.” 

Science and research 

The latest round of funding for charity-funded early career researchers was also welcome news for promising talents looking to beat cancer. With Cancer Research UK being allocated £3m from the Medical Research Charities Early Career Researchers Support Fund, it is a welcome boost at a time when inflation and the cost of living is squeezing research. 

The number of global cancer cases are predicted to increase by around 50% by 2040. Domestically, 110,000 deaths could be avoided over the next two decades, if UK cancer mortality rates are reduced by 15% by 2040. We are on the brink of discoveries that could transform how we understand and treat cancer.  

Every pound makes a difference, not just as the medical research charity sector continues to recover from the pandemic, but also because of the longer term challenges we face in funding in this vital area. As we revealed in our analysis for our manifesto, there will be a £1bn funding gap in research and development, which we’ve identified will happen over the next decade of funding cancer research in the UK. 

We believe that within a year of a general election, the UK Government should work with industry, research funders and research charities to set out a plan to, at least, close this gap. We look forward to working with governments to ensure that cancer research is on a long-term sustainable footing and to tackle the £1bn deficit. 

Health productivity 

Finally, the budget makes a welcome recognition of the need to upgrade ageing NHS IT and digital infrastructure, which is essential to reforms aimed at improving the smooth running of care and enabling the implementation of innovations such as artificial intelligence (AI).   

While this investment could unlock efficiencies and boost productivity, these budgets must be protected. For too long, capital investment funds have been raided to cover day-to-day costs – as recently as last year – a practice that must be stopped if investment is to have impact, alongside learning lessons from previous implementation of digital transformation with mixed results.  But the new funding is only beginning in 2025/26, when we know that the problems are here now, and require urgent attention today.  

With real variation in how digitally mature different parts of the NHS are to date, support and oversight will also be required to ensure this funding is most effective – alongside prioritisation so that investment has the most impact, for example the long delayed digital transformation of screening we have called for in our manifesto is essential to bring screening programmes into the future. 

And for more innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence in cancer, we need to make sure that the NHS is well equipped to take on these new technologies and use them best – as we’ve written about before. 

Making cancer a priority 

While many of these announcements are welcome, there are still considerable barriers in place in our mission to beat cancer. We need to back research and close the cancer research funding gap, diagnose more cancers early and ensure key cancer wait targets are met, and bring innovation to patients more quickly. 

With a general election on the horizon, we urge all political parties to show real leadership on cancer, and make cancer a priority. By following the measures and commitments set out in our manifesto, the next government could help to prevent 20,000 cancer deaths every year by 2040 and work towards achieving our aim of longer, better lives.

Tell us what you think

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read our comment policy.