Memorandum submitted by the Economic and
Social Research Council
1. The Economic and Social Research Council
(ESRC) is the largest independent funding agency for social science
research and training in the UK. It is one of the seven UK Research
Councils and receives most of its funds from the Office of Science
and Technology as part of the Science Vote. From a current budget
of just under £72 million (1999-2000), approximately 65 per
cent is allocated to research in universities and independent
research institutes, and 30 per cent to postgraduate training
(PhDs and Masters). Further information is available on the ESRC
2. This Memorandum briefly describes the
ESRC activities relevant to the Office of Science and Technology
initiative on Extending Quality of Life (EQUAL). This input has
been structured as a response to specific questions asked by the
Select Committee in a letter from Dr Rickett dated 19 November
1999. The key points are:
Two major investments are of direct
relevance to the EQUAL initiative, the Growing Older Programme,
and a Research Group on Beyond 2020 Vision: Formulating Policy
in an Ageing Society.
There is a possibility of further
programme work in this area, although no firm decisions have yet
Current programme investments total
£4.5 million over five years, commencing in the current financial
ESRC has collaborated with various
agencies and bodies in both the formulation of its research agenda
in this area and also in the implementation of its investments.
To what extent has the ESRC been involved in the
3. The ESRC was represented on the EQUAL
Inter-Council Working Group. The ESRC contributed to the activities
of this group by commissioning a review on Demographic Aspects
of Ageing by Professor Richard Disney. In response to the EQUAL
initiative, the ESRC agreed funding for a "New Opportunities
Research Programme". The EQUAL New Opportunities Programme
Panel supported scoping studies for a World Wide Web Site for
researchers and practitioners working within the ageing field,
and a user survey. In addition, the Panel advised the office on
plans for an international conference and topic reviews of the
area. This work laid the foundations for the development of the
ESRC's Growing Older Research Programme.
To what extent has EQUAL brought about new areas
of ESRC funded research?
4. The activities carried out under the
EQUAL New Opportunities Research Programme clearly emphasised
the need for large-scale research investment in the area of EQUAL.
The ESRC's Research Priorities Board agreed to fund the Growing
Older Research Programme in March 1998. At this meeting, the Board
also approved funding for a Research Group entitled "Beyond
2020 Vision: Formulating Social Policy within an Ageing Society"
based at the London School of Economics. Whilst this group was
not directly associated with EQUAL initiative it has contributed
to the ESRC's response to the demographic shift towards an ageing
society; further details can be found at Annex 1.
How does EQUAL relate to the ESRC Growing Older
5. As indicated above, the Programme arose
from the recognition of the need for large-scale research investment
in the area of EQUAL by the Research Priorities Board. The Growing
Older Programme, therefore, is a direct result of the EQUAL initiative.
The Programme's central question is "How can the quality
of people's lives be extended?" One of the main objectives
of the Programme is to contribute to the development of policies
and practice in the field, and thereby to extend quality life.
Projects under the Programme were commissioned in the period October
1998-June 1999. Twenty-four projects were funded under the Programme,
all addressing the central question and objectives of the Programme.
The projects under the Programme fall under the following key
Defining and Measuring Quality of
Inequalities in Quality of Life;
The Role of Technology and the Built Environment;
Healthy and Productive Ageing;
Family and Support Networks;
Participation and Activity in Later Life.
Further details of the projects can be found
at Annex 2.
Has the initiative identified and supported the
most appropriate research areas for confronting the challenges
of an ageing population?
6. The EQUAL initiative has focussed attention
on the questionhow can quality life be extended? This is
a key research question and one that has been relatively neglected
by UK social scientists. Therefore, the initiative has been helpful
in encouraging an expansion of research activity in this area.
With regard to the Growing Older Programme, an extensive consultation
exercise was carried out with experts in order to help to identify
the most appropriate research areas. The results of this exercise
are reflected in the areas listed in paragraph 5 above. However,
the challenges of an ageing population cover a broader range of
issues than the extension of the quality of people's lives, as
explained in section 8 below.
Is research in this area receiving sufficient
7. The ESRC was a pioneer in this area of
research, having funded an Ageing initiative in the early 1980s.
However, despite this early initiative, UK social science has
under-invested in research on ageing compared with the United
States and some of its EU partners. For instance, there are several
well-established gerontology research centres in France and Germany,
and the new research programme on ageing in Finland has around
£2 million over two years.
8. Whilst the Growing Older Programme is
a substantial investment of research in the EQUAL area, it cannot
answer all of the questions posed by the EQUAL initiative, let
alone the wider issues facing population ageing. For instance,
the long term relationship between age and employment, intergenerational
solidarity, pensions policy, paying for long term care and the
politics of old age are examples of other challenges associated
with population ageing. These are not being considered directly
by the Growing Older Programme, though some of the issues are
covered by the research agenda of the Beyond 2020 Vision Research
9. The response of the social science research
community to the commissioning of the Growing Older Programme
demonstrated a high demand and keen interest in this important
What are the key areas of research in this initiative?
What does the ESRC plan for EQUAL for the future?
10. The ESRC is keen to increase its contribution
to coordination activities in the domain of the EQUAL initiative.
Accordingly, ESRC is currently involved in discussions with MRC
and other Councils over the potential nature of such a contribution.
11. The ESRC will also consider the possibility
of funding a second phase of the Growing Older Research Programme.
Are there any highlights from the intiative so
12. As both the research projects of the
Growing Older Programme and also the 2020 Visions Group have only
commenced work in the autumn of 1999, it is too soon to report
research output highlights. However, there are several significant
highlights to report in terms of networking, agenda formation
and awareness raising, for which ESRC initiatives have provided
a national foundation for informed contributions. These include
The Programme is a designated partner
in the United Nations' research programme on ageing for the 21st
Close relationships have been established
with the Nuffield and Joseph Rowntree Foundations, both of whom
have recently started initiatives on ageing.
The background discussions in the
UK provided a solid and well-informed UK approach during the discussions
on the EU Fifth Framwork Programme Key Action on the Ageing Population.
Links have been established with
policymakers and the Foresight panel to develop the concept of
An extensive programme of networking
in the international social scientific community in the EU, USA
and Japan (for example, the European Congress of Gerontology;
the G8 meeting in Japan, and the Gerontological Society of America
Annual Scientific meeting).
How is the intitiative managed and delivered?
13. The ESRC investments detailed above
and in the two annexes are managed through two directed mode streams
of its Research Priorities Board. The Board will receive regular
reports from both researchers, the Programme Director and the
designated ESRC programme officer. Delivery results and outputs
is the responsibility of both the individual researchers and,
in the case of the Growing Older programme, the Programme Director.
ESRC will also highlight key findings as they arise, and these
will be targeted as appropriate through the ESRC corporate structures.
14. The Growing Older Programme is a directed
Programme consisting of a number of discrete projects coordinated
and managed at the scientific level by a Programme DirectorProfessor
Alan Walker, based at the University of Sheffield. See Annex 2
for a list of projects.
15. The 2020 Visions investments is an ESRC
Group project coordinated by Ms J Falkingham at the London School
of Economics and Political Science. The investment arose as a
result of success in the 1998 Centres and group competition, which
called for proposals in an important area of Social Policy. The
contract commenced on 1 October 1999.
Further information and future contacts
16. This memorandum has been prepared by
Mr Steve Morgan, Senior Policy Officer, ESRC with substantive
input from Professor Alan Walker, University of Sheffield, and
Ms Faye Auty, ESRC.
17. For further information on the Growing
Older Programme, please contact Professor Walker or Ms Auty. For
further information on the Beyond 2020 Visions Research group,
please contact Dr Catrin Roberts at ESRC.
11 January 2000