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Charity launches legal challenge to mental health research funding policy

A legal challenge has been launched by charity Miricyl against the UK government's largest medical research funder, United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Posted on 16 May 2019

Miricyl’s aim is that medical research funding should be allocated according to the human and financial impact of an illness on society. The charity states that current funding based on the number of academics or other factors will result in mental health researchers losing up to £1.5bn of funding over the next ten years.
UKRI is a non-departmental public body funded by £6bn of grant-in-aid from the UK government. It brings together seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and Research England.
Miricyl wrote a letter before action to UKRI on 29 April 2019 setting out why they believe that the current policy is unlawful. In their response UKRI agreed to carry out an equality impact assessment, for only one of their nine divisions, and not until the end of the year. UKRI state in their response that they do not accept the policy is potentially discriminatory so the charity believes that any assessment on that basis will be ineffective. As a result, the charity will now start taking the necessary steps to begin judicial review proceedings.
Miricyl argues that the policies used by UKRI to distribute funding indirectly discriminate against those with mental health issues. They argue that the ‘allocation method’ to distribute funds, which matches funds from charitable donations, disadvantages research into mental health, because mental health research receives only 3% of charitable funding  whilst the human and financial impact of mental health on society is 16% of all illnesses.
In their legal case, Miricyl claims that the policy for allocating funding cannot be justified, because it neglects mental health research despite the NHS spending more on mental health than any other health condition.
The charity also argues that UKRI failed to discharge its Public Sector Equality Duty when creating and implementing the allocation method policy.
Miricyl is fundraising for the case through CrowdJustice.
Alex Conway, CEO of Miricyl, said:

“I am fighting this case because I have been affected by mental illness and I don’t want other people to suffer like I have. The funding stream we are challenging generates 12x more funding for cancer research than mental health. How can UKRI justify this when it states it “will ensure everyone in society benefits from world-leading research and innovation” and mental illness has a higher human and financial impact on society than any other?
Rowan Smith, solicitor from law firm Leigh Day, said:

Mental health issues affect a huge number of people across the UK and our client believes it is only fair that UKRI creates a new policy that puts mental health research on a fair footing compared to physical health research. It is clear from UKRI’s response that it has never turned its mind to the potential discrimination before now. Our client hopes this legal action helps to shine a light on these issues, particularly during Mental Health Awareness week.”