Last week George Osborne sent a positive signal about the likely outcome for research spending in the upcoming Spending Review, confirming that it is a 'personal priority'. This is welcome news. But he also said something else:
“We are making difficult decisions on things like welfare so that we can invest in areas like science.”
As someone who spends a lot of time advocating for maintenance or even increases in the research budget this statement made me feel very uncomfortable. If I thought that there was a direct trade-off between research and welfare spending I would not be supporting maintained research spending.
Of course, there isn't a direct trade-off, as reflected by the use of the word 'like' in the quote above, but it does serve as a timely reminder that any discussion about spending is deeply political. Where the money goes cannot be separated from where is comes from. I would much rather the 'difficult' decisions were about increasing taxes or cutting defence spending, rather than focussed on welfare.