‘Probably, Minister …’: the ‘Strong Programme’ Approach to the Relationship between Research and Policy

  • Mel Bartley
Part of the Explorations in Sociology book series (EIS)


This paper is based on a study of the ways in which research and policy debates concerning the health effects of unemployment were related to each other in the UK over the period 1979–87. Briefly, what happened in the debate? An American study by Professor M. H. Brenner (1979), indicating that the usual downward trend in death rates levelled out when unemployment was high, was published in the UK. These findings were used to exert political pressure. In turn, the work of Brenner also came under pressure: several problems concerning his methods were pointed out. A British government study then produced findings suggesting that unemployment had no effect on health. Several British research groups then entered the debate, using methods which were less open to the methodological criticisms aimed at the American research. However, when the largest and most sophisticated British study was published, in 1987, there was hardly any response, either academic or political (Moses et al., 1987). This work, which suggested that there was an independent effect of unemployment on mortality risk, has never been explicitly refuted. But academic papers continue to appear which are written as if these findings had never been reported. Discussion of policy issues such as the level of unemployment benefits, or the availability of re-training, make no reference to health. Now that unemployment is once again high in the UK, there has been no revival of the debate.


Social Construction Government Department Policy Debate Pressure Group Strong Programme 
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© British Sociological Association 1996

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  • Mel Bartley

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