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Cambridge family’s welfare plan wins £50,000 economics prize

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Three members of the same family have been named as joint winners of one of the highest cash prizes in economics.

A ‘radical’ plan to boost UK growth was sufficient for the family trio to become the joint first winners of the £100,000 Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) Economics Prize.

The inaugural prize was introduced to reward innovative ideas to reinvigorate the UK economy that force a ‘step change in the quality and quantity of the UK’s economic growth’.

Top award for trio of family members (14021011)
Top award for trio of family members (14021011)

Simon Szreter, professor of history and public policy at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of St John’s College, Hilary Cooper, economics consultant, who is married to Prof Szreter, and their son Ben Szreter, chief executive of Cambridge United Community Trust, worked together on a detailed plan to enable faster UK growth by investing in generous and universal welfare provision.

Prof Szreter said: “The key proposal, emanating directly from history, is that generous and inclusive universal welfare provision should be reconceptualised as an absolutely crucial economic growth promoter, not as merely a ‘tax burden’ on the productive economy.

“It has been proven to perform this function twice before in our history and its abandonment has twice led to faltering and then disastrous declines in national productivity, as is being currently experienced with the much-vaunted ‘productivity puzzle’.”

The judges praised Szreter, Cooper and Szreter’s ‘radical’ historical, economic and community-led policy solutions to the economic challenges faced by the UK.

The IPPR prize is now one of the largest in the economics profession after the 9m Swedish krona (£760,455) Nobel award from the Swedish central bank and the £250,000 Wolfson prize, which was launched in 2011 by the Tory peer and Next chief executive Simon Wolfson.

The family, who collect half the £100,000 prize, said:
“We’re really pleased that this prize has recognised the value of a different approach. Ours looks at history and how it can be applied to today’s practical challenges and brings the insights of political economy to propose a solution to the problems we face, especially the inequalities that threaten our productivity, our wellbeing and our democracy.”

Although the ideas belong to the winners, the IPPR will be involved in promoting them in the public sphere and they may well influence its future policy work.

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