Select Committee on Science and Technology First Report


1.For all our success in increasing life expectancy, we have failed singularly to extend the length of healthy life. (Paragraph 7)
2.The evidence that the extra years gained include extra years of disability (whether milder or not) is what makes initiatives such as EQUAL so important. (Paragraph 9)
3.Future research into ageing must take ethnicity fully into account. (Paragraph 14)
4.EQUAL provides the potential to focus research and development on the growing need of an ageing society for improvements in quality of life in later years. There is a pressing need for research directed both towards those who are already old, and towards the next generation, particularly those in their 40s and 50s whose old age we may be able to improve significantly. (Paragraph 15)
5.It is, in our view, a fundamental weakness of EQUAL that there was no specific funding given to encourage the programme. (Paragraph 18)
6.We regret the limited co-ordinating role that the OST has played in EQUAL since its establishment. In our view, the lack of commitment and leadership on the part of OST has significantly weakened the drive to enhance ageing-related research. (Paragraph 22)
7.We urge the Research Councils to demonstrate their commitment to EQUAL with greater vigour. (Paragraph 31)
8.Had EQUAL been more vigorously pursued by the OST, there would have been greater potential for AgeNet to influence Research Council priorities and the profile of research proposals they received. (Paragraph 34)
9.There is no evidence of much involvement of the Department of Health in EQUAL. We see this as a significant weakness. (Paragraph 35)
10.We recommend that the Government make a substantive response to the report of the Foresight Ageing Population Panel, as soon as is practicable. (Paragraph 37)
11.We urge Ministers to demonstrate, in their response to this Report and to the Foresight Ageing Population Panel, that the Government is fully committed to exploiting the research base to address the needs of older people. (Paragraph 38)
12.All in all, we believe that EQUAL has not been sufficiently successful in encouraging interaction and collaboration between Government Departments, Research Councils and others engaged in ageing research. We suspect that part of the problem is that EQUAL has been the responsibility of OST rather than one of the big-spending departments responsible for the health and welfare of the older sections of the population. EQUAL has been a marginalised research initiative while it should have been central to the Government's policy on ageing. We recommend that the Government transfer lead responsibility for EQUAL either to the Department of Health or to whichever Government Department is given lead responsibility for ageing. However, should any additional funds be made available for the EQUAL programme, they should be administered by OST. (Paragraph 40)
13.We regret that little attempt has been made to foster interest in, and knowledge of, EQUAL outside the Research Councils. (Paragraph 42)
14.We share the view that the effectiveness of EQUAL has been reduced by a lack of leadership from OST. (Paragraph 45)
15.We believe that the lack of dedicated funding has undermined the effectiveness of the EQUAL programme. (Paragraph 49)
16.In the main, most of the Research Councils have responded to EQUAL with a marked lack of enthusiasm. Given the absence of additional funding, this is perhaps not surprising. (Paragraph 51)
17.Overall - and largely for reasons beyond its control - the performance of AgeNet has been disappointing. (Paragraph 52)
18.We welcome the plans "to develop a co-ordinated approach to ageing research following the termination of the AgeNet initiative" and the establishment of the Ageing Research Funders' Forum. (Paragraph 68)
19.We recommend —
(a)  better co-ordination of activities across Government;
(b)  the development of a considered strategy with specific objectives;
(c)  transfer of lead responsibility for EQUAL to the Government Department with the main responsibility for ageing, probably the Department of Health;
(d)  appropriate research funding for EQUAL, co-ordinated by the OST;
(e)  greater encouragement for the Research Councils to work together, particularly to prevent undesirable overlap in research effort;
(f)  identification and reduction of research gaps. This should include an examination of overseas research as well as that taking place in the UK;
(g)  better assessment of the balance of research between different topics;
(h)  identification of research priorities within the EQUAL programme;
(i)  increased efforts to stimulate research in priority areas;
(j)  the development of a means of evaluating the effectiveness and value of EQUAL. (Paragraph 69)
20.We recommend wider networking beyond the Research Councils in order to input ideas from the user communities (including business, Government departments, older people and their representative organisations), and the research community. (Paragraph 70)
21.We recommend that a greater emphasis be placed on dissemination of ageing-related research findings to relevant user communities and on the translation of findings into policy and practice. (Paragraph 71)
22.We recommend that specific plans be drawn up for the future of EQUAL, with agreed objectives and clear bench marking and dedicated funding for the co-ordination of the programme. (Paragraph 73)
23.EQUAL has been a disappointment. How to extend our active life, and to improve the quality of our old age, is an absolutely crucial issue. Indeed, given the current demographic trends, meeting the needs of an ageing population could be said to be the most important issue which confronts our society at present. EQUAL was, in concept, an admirable initiative, aiming to use the resources, expertise and capacity for innovation of the research base to extend the active period of people's lives. Yet it seems to have achieved very little. This is partly the result of a lack of impetus and enthusiasm on the part of the OST, but largely stems from the fact that EQUAL carries no funding of its own. The Government must face up to the fact that EQUAL, as established, has not worked. Responsibility should pass to whichever Government department is given lead responsibility for ageing. Unless EQUAL can be relaunched, properly funded and managed with enthusiasm, it should be abandoned. (Paragraph 74)
24.Tackling the issues posed by a population that is ageing will be a test of joined-up government, and a test which we cannot afford to fail. (Paragraph 75)

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