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George Freeman: get people from estates working in warehousing

Science minister criticised for comments on widening the benefits of R&D investment

The UK’s science minister has suggested that poor people from housing estates in cities such as Cambridge could benefit from a strong local science base, not by becoming researchers, but by getting jobs in warehouses and volunteering for clinical trials.

George Freeman was commenting on economic and health disparities within cities and counties during an event titled Levelling-up the Conversation: Building a Life Sciences Superpower, held in Cambridge on 20 January.

“There are lots of people in this city and county who don’t benefit…from this amazing science,” he said of Cambridge and Cambridgeshire, noting that he grew up in the county and lived for a while in Arbury, a Cambridge City Council housing estate.

“Get them involved, get them into trials, get them so that they are benefitting from the actual health,” he said.

“Secondly, schools and skills,” he added, “not everyone is gonna be a Nobel prize-winning geneticist. But we could be getting more people from the Arbury estate into working in warehousing, working in the sector, working in well-paid jobs in this industry.

“That’s about going into D as well as the R; as we go upstream into manufacturing, you widen the pool.”

He also said that the development of “world-class transport infrastructure” in such cities would benefit local people who could then say “I’m not involved in the life sciences sector, but I live in the most amazingly connected city”.

Freeman also reaffirmed his commitment to making the UK an “innovation nation”, saying “there is plenty of money in the system” to deliver on the government’s life science vision and missions. “We’re in the process of giving £30 billion to UKRI and Innovate UK for the next three years,” he added.

Labour’s shadow science minister, Chi Onwurah, criticised Freeman’s comments.

“We need more Nobel prizewinners from council estates and George Freeman should be inspiring young people with the endless possibilities of science, not directing them to warehouses,” she told Research Professional News.

“The areas with the greatest health inequalities receive the lowest levels of per capita medical research funding, but Mr Freeman did not see fit to mention that.”

She added: “Labour believes that everyone should be able to benefit from, and contribute to, Britain’s great science base.”

Research Professional News has approached Freeman for comment.

A version of this article also appeared in Research Fortnight