UK should double aid spending on research and development, says think-tank

6 Nov 17

The UK should double its aid spending on research and development to ensure post-Brexit Britain becomes a world technology leader, a think-tank has said. 

The amount of official development assistance (ODA) spent should double from 5% to 10% of the total budget to help the poor around the world and to support the UK’s leading scientists, the Policy Exchange said in a report out today. 

In 2015 the UK spent £419m on research and development, the think-tank noted. 

Policy Exchange’s director of research Rupert Oldham-Reid said developing R&D “should be a central part both of our aid strategy and a broader innovation-led industrial strategy”.

He said that without further research, much of today’s technology would not be enough to meet global challenges in the future and meet the UN’s sustainable development goals. 

Working with the Copenhagen Consensus Center, the think-tank identified 40 interventions where British scientists could help millions of people, for example by developing more affordable treatments for asthma, supporting farmers with irrigation techniques and launching cleaner ways of cooking.

Oldham-Reid said: “A post Brexit Britain has the potential to become a world leader in emerging technologies in agriculture, medicine, transport and GovTech – both helping our economy and tackling some of the world’s most important challenges. 

“Brexit may also give us an opportunity to be more innovative as the European Union’s over-reliance on the ‘precautionary principle’ has slowed progress in sectors like pharmaceuticals and GM crops, with significant spill-over effects in the developing world,” he said.

The report said R&D is neglected by the rest of the international development community.

MP and chair of the Conservative Policy Forum George Freeman said in the foreword of the report: “Public investment in development R&D can be a win/win - boosting global security and prosperity, while providing the seed capital to support a wider ecosystem of innovation at home.

“Many of these new technologies will not just help tackle the problems of the world’s poorest people, but solve our own challenges.”

President of the think-tank Copenhagen Consensus Center Bjorn Lomborg said their research has shown that research and development delivers some of the most benefit for each pound spent.

“In global health, agriculture, gender-based violence, air pollution, and other areas, there are large opportunities for development innovation, where British R&D spending could help immensely,” he said. 

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