Layard Receives Lifetime Achievement Award as ESRC Names 2020 Impact Winners

Economist Richard Layard, Baron Layard FBA, professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, founder and director of Britain’s Economics and Social Research Council’s Centre for Economic Performance, and current co-director of the Centre’s Community Wellbeing Programme, has received a Lifetime Achievement Award as part of the ESRC’s annual Celebrating Impact Prizes.

ESRC Celebrating Impact logo

The Celebrating Impact competition, now in its eighth year, recognizes and rewards ESRC-funded researchers who have achieved impact through outstanding research, knowledge exchange activities, collaborative partnerships and engagement with different communities. In honoring  Layard, the research council celebrates how his work showing that better wellbeing can improve lives and the economy has proved an outstanding contribution to social science and society in the UK and beyond.

As he explained in a Social Science Bites podcast earlier this year, three basic principles underlie what he calls “happiness economics”:

Richard Layard
Richard Layard
  • “The way we judge the situation or the state of a nation is by the happiness of the people, especially the happiness of the least-happy people.”
  • “We should try and produce the best state in the world that we can in the way that we live our lives and the people we touch or could touch. So we should be trying to produce the largest amount of happiness in the world that we can, especially taking into account the people who are least happy.”
  • “Governments should also be trying to produce the greatest happiness in people, especially preventing misery. That was the view of Thomas Jefferson; I think it was the right view.”

He co-founded the Action for Happiness campaign and his work has resulted in an initiative to improve access to psychological therapies. The impact of Layard’s work can be seen in education, employment, mental health and climate change and his influence felt in academic research, public policy, community engagement and across the political spectrum.

The ESRC named four other winners, plus a Panel’s Choice Award, in a digital ceremony held today. Each winner receives £10,000 to further knowledge exchange, public engagement, or other communications activities to promote the economic and social impact of their research. The council, which is the UK’s largest organization for funding research on economic and social issues, named its slate of finalists in late October.

“All of these outstanding researchers,” said ESRC Executive Chair Jennifer Rubin, “are already contributing to policy debates in their specialist areas and their influence will likely be felt for many years to come.”

Arjan Verschoor, left, and Ben D’Exelle
Arjan Verschoor, left, and Ben D’Exelle

The award for Outstanding Business and Enterprise Impact went to professors Arjan Verschoor and Ben D’Exelle of the University of East Anglia, who have been designing insurance to give smallholder farmers in Uganda a safe way out of poverty. Their research examined how the African nation’s three million smallholders perceived risk, which in turn allowed development of a new drought insurance program subsidized by the Ugandan government. The scheme now protects more than 225,000 smallholders against the risks to their livelihoods posed by drought, pests and poor-quality seed, while boosting productivity by providing them the confidence to invest in their farms.

Finalist for this award was Anna Remington at UCL Institute of Education.

The Outstanding International Impact award went to the “Ending the Reading Wars” spearheaded by professor Kathy Rastle at Royal Holloway University of London, professor Kate Nation at the University of Oxford, and professor Anne Castles of Macquarie University. Their project outlined the science behind how children learn to read is transforming the way reading is taught in classrooms around the world and helping potentially millions of children improve their life chances through better literacy skills.

The award for Outstanding Public Policy Impact went to the ESRC Centre for Population Change at the University of Southampton and the researchers at the centre: professors Jane Falkingham, Maria Evandrou, Ann Berrington, Jakub Bijak, Corrado Giulietti, Peter W F Smith, Athina Vlachantoni, and Jackline Wahba, and researchers Teresa McGowan and Becki Dey. The award noted how the centre informspolicy with better national population data and statistics.

The finalists for the award were professor Emla Fitzsimons and Dr Praveetha Patalay of University College London.

Yvonne Jewkes
Yvonne Jewkes

The award for Outstanding Societal Impact went to Yvonne Jewkes, professor of criminology at the University of Bath and honorary visiting professor at the University of Melbourne, whose research into the impact of penal architecture on prisoners and prison staff has changed thinking on custodial design and led to investment in more progressive and innovative prisons in the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. She is also she is the founding editor of the new journal Incarceration.

The finalists for this ward were professor Marianne Hester at the University of Bristol and professor Alice Sullivan of the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies.

Emla Fitzsimons and Praveetha Patalay
Emla Fitzsimons, left, and Praveetha Patalay

This year the panel also chose to award an additional Panel’s Choice award to recognize a finalist whose work shows great promise and is expected to reach its full impact in the future. Professors Emla Fitzsimons and Praveetha Patalay of University College London researched improving young people’s lives using evidence from national cohort data. An estimated 16 percent of all 14-year-olds in the UK in 2015 suffered from mental ill-health. Research which identified the scale of mental ill-health among the UK’s adolescents, and studied its drivers, has focused national attention on the problem, prompting new government policy and strategies for improving young people’s mental health.

The judging panel for the Celebrating Impact Prize was composed of Dr Grant Hill-Cawthorne, head of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology; Irene Hardill, professor of public policy at Northumbria University; professor Alison Park, the ESRC’s director of research; Sufina Ahmad, director of the John Ellerman Foundation; and John Young, executive director of INASP.

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