Research Funding

CPEST/CBR Research Grant Competition

The Trustees of the Cambridge Political Economy Society Trust (CPEST) and the Centre for Business Research (CBR) invited proposals for projects within the field of political economy as defined by the aims of the Trust. These were to (1) to advance the education of the public in political economy and related matters, and (2) to promote research in matters pertaining to political economy and to publish the useful results of such research.

The Trustees interpret research in political economy to include work of a theoretical, applied, interdisciplinary, history of thought or methodological nature, having a strong emphasis on realistic analysis, the development of critical perspectives, the provision and use of empirical evidence, and the construction of policy. The Trust therefore welcomed applications from heterodox economics as well as from other social science disciplines.

Projects have been housed in the CBR, as well as other University departments.

Applications were received from members of departmental or college academic staff in the University of Cambridge, by members of the Cambridge Political Economy Society, and members (including research associates) of the CBR.

There are two start dates for projects, the first was October 2015 and the second is October 2018. Below are details of the projects that were awarded grants:

PI: Prof L King
Project Title: IMF Lending and Socio-Economic Development: The evolution and consequences of structural adjustment, 1985-2014
Project Duration: 2015 – 20-18
Project summary: After years of decline for its services, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has recently experienced a revival. New lending has been plentiful, its capital was increased, and high-profile programs – in Greece, the Ukraine and Tunisia – have placed it at the centre of the policy response to the global financial crisis. In addition, according to the IMF, the organization has taken on-board criticisms and reformed past practices. For instance, the IMF’s Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, recently appeared puzzled by a journalist’s question: “Structural adjustments? That was before my time. I have no idea what it is. We do not do that anymore.”

Given the re-emergence of the IMF as the central institution in directing and managing economic reforms across the globe, there is good reason to probe into these changes, put them in context, provide historical depth, and re-assess the relevant evidence. The proposed project takes on this task, and will utilise a mixed-methods approach and a battery of new data to examine three interrelated questions (organised in discrete work packages): How has the practice of IMF lending evolved over the past 30 years? What have been the correlates of IMF conditionality? What consequences have IMF programs had on key issues (e.g. environment or health policy) and selected countries?

This project aims to provide the definitive contribution to central debates concerning the IMF in political economy, international economic policymaking and development studies. Unlike quantitative studies, which uncritically employ a dummy variable to measure the presence of an IMF program in a given country, we will rely on our newly-developed data base on IMF conditionality (1985-2014) to develop more nuanced measures of IMF programs that capture the number, severity and implementation of conditions. In addition, unlike qualitative studies that solely analyse easily-observable elements of IMF policies (e.g. public statements or research outputs), we will unearth a wide range of archival data to examine the main issues of interest.

PI: Dr M Gray
Project title: Regimes of Austerity: Economic Change and the Politics of Contraction
Project Duration: 2018-2020

Project summary: This research examines the politics of austerity in mid-sized British cities as they respond to recession, recovery, fiscal uncertainty, growing economic inequality, and changing policy demands. Over the last twenty years we have witnessed growing inequality within our cities (Walks 2014), a growing list of demands that fall onto local governments, and continued fiscal pressures as the central government pursues austerity policies.

There has been a plethora of analysis of the impacts of the financial crisis and policy responses at the macro-level, but urban-level analysis has been limited (Martin, 2011; Kitson et al. 2011). This research examines the politics of fiscal contraction in British cities as they respond to the global financial crisis, rising inequality, and a changing fiscal policy landscape. To address this topic we propose the following three research objectives: (1) Examine how inequality and the politics around the distribution of public resources have changed at the local level in mid-sized British cities over the last twenty years; (2) Investigate how a city’s economic, demographic and political base can shape the newer politics of austerity; and (3) Consider how economic change, inequality and the politics of redistribution inform traditional theories of urban political and economic geography.

To address these three objectives, we draw on insights from urban political economy. We propose a mixed-methods approach, using quantitative and qualitative research. The quantitative dimension will assess broader trends that may be occurring across British cities, and against which we can benchmark the cities under study. The bulk of the research effort will focus on case studies of six selected cities with populations between 350,000-500,000: Cardiff, Birkenhead, Edinburgh, Leicester, Bristol, and Coventry.

We choose these cities because they represent different economic and industrial histories, different institutional contexts, and different current states of economic health and social well-being. Their economies tend to be less complex than their global city counterparts making controlling for variables manageable. These cities, which are at the smaller end of the mid-sized range, are also understudied and yet the implications of our findings will have relevance to many other cities grappling with similar issues.

Our research will advance knowledge in the field of economic change and urban governance. Many theories of urban political economy are built around unchallenged assumptions of growth. In our study, however, while some of our case study cities have continued to experience growth; others are in decline. All of them have had to confront challenging redistribution decisions in particular economic, social and political contexts and have forged new political coalitions around the economics of austerity.

Updates on both of these projects can be seen in the Centre for Business Research Annual Reports (

PI: Dr B Burchell
Project title: The employment dosage: How much work is needed for health and wellbeing?
Project Duration: Oct 2018 -2020

Debates within Political Economy have often considered the likelihood of a future where there is a radical reduction in the hours of employment, hastening the long-running slow trend in the shortening of the working week. The possibility is now being taken more seriously with the advent of machine learning and robotics.

This scenario has fostered much debate about the implications for earnings and earnings inequality, re-stimulating discussions of Universal Basic Income. Yet the wage is only one benefit of paid employment; there is a strong consensus that there are many other social and psychological benefits of employment, and withdrawal of these (i.e. unemployment) results in a deterioration in an individual’s mental health and wellbeing. This has significant financial implications for government health and welfare expenditure.

Under such a scenario, an alternative to mass unemployment would be a radical reduction in the average working week. Yet, there has been no attempt within the social sciences to understand what the impact of mass part-time work would be on wellbeing. In other words, what is the minimum ‘dose’ of paid work that is necessary to get the psycho-social benefits of employment? Supplementary questions addressed in this research proposal are a) the extent to which this ‘minimum’ number of hours varies depending on the psychologically-beneficial content of a job, b) the extent to which it varies by occupation and demographics and c) the extent to which it varied according to individual differences and d) the extent to which voluntary work or active labour market programmes can substitute for paid work in providing these benefits.

Answers to these questions will be sought by the analysis of three large datasets (one UK panel, one EU-wide survey and one survey with detail of the psycho-social content of jobs to examine the relationship between hours of work and wellbeing). The proposal also includesa qualitative component composing of in-depth interviews with those already undertaking part-time work and other atypical forms of work.

Using our existing policy networks with the policy partners the research findings will be disseminated directly back to decision makers ensuring the research has significant impacts on thinking and future policy design