The 50th anniversary of the ESRC was celebrated earlier this week with a special, topical question and answer session with a panel of the UK’s leading social scientists.

The event, held on 1 December at the Royal Society in London, gave 150 guests the opportunity to hear the latest in social science on themes ranging from equity in education, migration, urban transformations and constitutional change, to effective economic and social policies, population change and the challenges of ageing.

Chaired by Suzanne Moore, award-winning Guardian columnist, the panel consisted of Professor Jane Falkingham, Director, ESRC Centre for Population Change; Professor Charlie Jeffery, Senior Vice Principal, University of Edinburgh; Paul Johnson, Director, Institute for Fiscal Studies; Professor Michael Keith, Director, ESRC Centre on Migration, Policy and Society and Co-ordinator, ESRC Urban Transformations; Professor Anna Vignoles, Director of Research at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge; and David Walker, journalist, commentator and Head of Policy, Academy of Social Sciences.

The themes discussed during the evening focused heavily on various aspects of inequality and distribution: reducing the inequality between young and old, particularly the role of housing; addressing the inequality of life expectancy between regions and sectors of society; and how the nature of cities may evolve.

There was also a discussion of the implications of the UK leaving the EU, such as the loss of skilled people, and particularly what Brexit might mean for social science funding, as well as the UK’s constitutional state and the impacts of English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) and the momentum for further devolution.

The debate ended with panellists considering the most significant impacts of social science research over the past 50 years such as understanding of childhood, research on climate change, the evidence from cohort and longitudinal studies, and the massive contribution of research to improving productivity and competitiveness.

Professor Jane Elliott, ESRC Chief Executive, said the debate was a fitting way to mark 50 years of the ESRC: "The 50th anniversary debate showcased the impacts of social science over the past 50 years, but also demonstrated how many social scientists are focused on understanding the issues facing UK society today. It was a great reminder of the breadth and depth of UK social science expertise."

During 2015 the ESRC – the UK's largest funder of research on economic and social issues – has run a range of events to celebrate its 50th anniversary and to celebrate the achievements of social sciences and the insights they have given to society. The year began with the anniversary launch event, where politicians and business leaders gathered with some of the country's leading social scientists at the House of Commons. 

This was followed by the Changing World photographic competition (YouTube) which asked young photographers across the country to capture how the world has changed over 50 years, or could change in the future.

Lastly, the World in 2065 ESRC-SAGE writing competition invited ESRC-funded PhD students from across the UK to use their creative skills and look at what impact the social sciences and current research will have in 50 years’ time.