Economic and Social Research Council
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Mental health, civil rights and workplace tech receive £25 million boost

Centres driving advances in social research – such as in mental health treatment and prevention, and civil rights and engagement – received a boost yesterday as the government unveiled £25 million for social science research.

  • £25m will strengthen social science research with major implications for improving social and economic outcomes across people’s lifetimes
  • The areas funded include mental health, civil rights, skills development and the digital workplace, and social care
  • UK research centres from London to Sussex and Leeds to Cardiff – including two new centres - awarded cash boost as part of coveted competition

Four major social science research centres across the UK have secured a slice of the funding as part of a highly competitive competition run by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), open to all areas of social science. Led by Universities across the UK, the centres benefiting from the cash injection will propel forward our understanding of and response to a range of social and economic issues - exploring how population and technology changes are impacting modern economy and society.

This investment is the latest move by the government to inject funding into crucial research, as part of its ambition for research and development investment to reach 2.4% of GDP by 2027. As with other ESRC investment in centres, the scale and longevity of these centres is expected to enable significant social and economic impact.

Science and Innovation Minister Jo Johnson yesterday said:

“The rapid pace of advances in technology and population growth are dramatically changing the world we all inhabit.

“These centres will play a vital role in building our shared understanding of the impact these shifts are having on society and the world of work. These projects each have the potential to strengthen the social fabric of our country, while keeping the UK at the forefront of global social science.”

The Government is investing in two new centres, and reinvesting in two existing ones – all with expected major implications for policy makers, businesses, charities and families in improving outcomes across a range of areas. Successful projects include:

  • Centre for Society and Mental Health, hosted by King’s College London:this new centre will deepen our understanding of how social, economic and cultural changes are affecting our mental health. Findings are expected to have major implications for treatment and prevention of mental health disorders which cost the UK economy around £105 billion annually in healthcare and non-medical costs and unemployment, lost productivity and social welfare.
  • Digital Futures at Work, hosted by the University of Sussex Business School and Leeds University Business School: this new centre will explore how new digital technologies are profoundly reshaping the world of work and is expected to produce new evidence for policy makers, businesses, and unions on effective adoption of digital technology, the future of skills requirements and productivity.
  • The Research Centre on Micro-Social Change, hosted by University of Essex: this established and highly regarded ESRC centre will explore demographic changes and is expected to provide important new evidence to inform policy makers, parents, as well as education, health and social care providers and employers, on how they can support better outcomes for young people over their lifetime, and respond to an aging society.
  • The Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research, Data and Methods (WISERD) Civil Society Centre, hosted by Cardiff University: this established and highly regarded ESRC centre is expected to produce research with major implications for national and international policy makers and civil society organisations. It will enable evidence-based policy making to support the development of a strong, healthy civil society and increase marginalised citizens' awareness of their rights so they can secure and access public services.

Professor Jennifer Rubin, ESRC’s Executive Chair yesterday said:

"We are delighted to announce the funding for these four centres, which demonstrate the breadth of social science excellence in the UK. It is heartening to see the existing ESRC centres WISERD and MiSoC continue to build on an impressive body of work and to see the creation of two new centres with fresh social science perspective on Mental Health and Society, and Digital Futures at Work, both of which are issues of major public and policy interest.”   

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, yesterday said:

“These four centres represent significant investments across the social science research landscape, focusing on key issues such as the impact of digital technologies on the world of work and the effects of socio-economic changes on mental health. They will play an important role in maintaining the UK’s international standing at the cutting edge of social science research.”

Notes for Editors

  1. The ESRC undertook a review of the way it funds its centres between 2015 and 2017. This review recognised the strategic value of ESRC centres as beacons of research excellence, with high impact nationally and internationally. 
  2. The ESRC Centres competition was launched in 2018/19 with three stages to the competition (outline and full panel and interview).  The ESRC received 89 applications at outline stage, from which 18 were invited to submit full stage applications, and 9 invited to interview. 
  3. These Centres will be funded up to £8 million at 100% full economic cost for five years, with the future option to apply for follow on Centres Transition and Legacy funding for up to a further 10 years. 
  4. Research centre funding is aimed at experienced research leaders who require extended support for research groups, inter-institutional research networks, project-linked programmes, medium-to-large surveys, other infrastructure or methodological developments, or any related larger-scale projects.
  5. Further information on the projects:  
  • WISERD Civil Society Centre, £6.3m
    • This Centre will look at divisions in society by focusing on the rights and obligations and practices of citizens and the role of civil society organisations in addressing inequalities in those rights and obligations.
    • They will examine issues such as trends in polarisation of economic, political and social rights - looking at how campaigns for rights are changing and undertaking case studies of attempts to repair the fabric of civil life.
    • WISERD is a partnership between the universities of Aberystwyth, Bangor, Cardiff, South Wales and Swansea. Principal Investigator, Professor Ian Jones
  • The Research Centre on Micro-Social Change, £6.2m:
    • The Centre will investigate how individuals and families are responding to the challenge of the world’s need for a creative, adaptable labour force - with higher levels of education and a greater reliance on social skills.
    • It will also explore demographic changes: including new family structures, changing gender roles, an ageing population and growing diversity from migration.
    • Principal Investigator, Professor Mike Brewer
  • Centre for Society and Mental Health, £6.4m
    • The ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health will bring about significant advancements in our understanding of how social, economic and cultural transformations affect mental health.
    • The Centre will bring together expertise across social science, epidemiology, psychiatry, neuroscience, patient and public involvement, and policy analysis. It will explore how social, economic and health policies can support improvements in individual and community resilience to mental health problems
    • Principal Investigator, Professor Craig Morgan
  • Digital Futures at Work Research Centre, £6.5m:
    • The Digital Futures at Work Research Centre (Digit) will establish itself as an essential resource for those wanting to understand how new digital technologies are profoundly reshaping the world of work.
    • Theoretical understanding of contemporary developments in digital work remain underdeveloped and systematic empirical analyses are lacking. Drawing on resources from different academic fields of study, Digit will provide theoretically informed, empirically innovative rigorous analysis and international insights into the impact of digitalisation on work.
    • The Digit research centre will be jointly led by the Universities of Sussex and Leeds, supported by leading experts from Aberdeen, Cambridge, Manchester and Monash Universities.
    • Principal Investigator, Professor Jacqueline O’Reilly
  1. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government. For more information visit
  2. UK Research and Innovation works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. We aim to maximise the contribution of each of our component parts, working individually and collectively. We work with our many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas.  

Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £7 billion, UK Research and Innovation brings together the seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England. 


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