But after 18 months of a global pandemic, in which the value of modern science and medicine has shone through, it seems pride in the UK’s boffins has been restored.
According to new polling from YouGov, science and medicine is now viewed as Britain’s most valuable export (54 per cent), over manufacturing and engineering (11 per cent), art and culture (per cent), and sport and leisure (5 per cent).
A total of 1,635 adults were surveyed in mid-September for research commissioned by the charity Malaria No More UK.
The polling also revealed that more than 70 per cent of Britons, across all social classes, feel it is important that the UK continues to invest in preventing global diseases like ebola, HIV and malaria.
A similar number (80 per cent) believe that it is important for UK security to invest in disease prevention.
This comes against the backdrop of cuts made by the government earlier this year to key research and development projects in the field of science, and wider calls to restore the funding.
Last week, a new parliamentary report laid bare the “devastating impact” of the government’s foreign aid cuts on the global fight against HIV, highlighting how international programmes have been scrapped, research funding lost and millions of lives put at risk.
As part of an inquiry led by the All Party Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS, experts warned that the decision to reduce the UK’s overseas aid budget, from 0.7 per cent of national income to 0.5 per cent, could “reverse decades of hard-won progress”.
Separately, Malaria No More UK said the pandemic experience has led to strong public backing for continued investment in science and research to tackle global diseases – as reflected by the charity’s polling.
“British-led science is playing such a critical role in the fight against Covid-19,” said Gareth Jenkins, director of advocacy at the organisation.
“These polling results show the British public want to see the country build on this momentum to end those diseases that have been around for centuries – like malaria – once and for all.
“Britons don’t just care about what happens on their doorstep, they want to see our nation deploy its scientific know-how to help alleviate the burden of deadly diseases around the globe.”
Ahead of next month’s spending review, Malaria No More UK called upon ministers to build upon the scientific response to Covid by pumping money into malaria research, both at home and overseas, to ensure critical interventions are provided for those who need them most.
The government is also under pressure to maintain its investments to the Global Fund partnership, which is working to end the AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria epidemics.
“Now is not the time for Britain to reduce its contribution to the fight, and that includes backing our brilliant scientists, and the Global Fund programmes that help get the prevention tools and medicines to those who need them,” said Mr Jenkins.
Professor Azra Ghani, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Imperial College London, said: “Now more than ever we need to maintain our investment in this global fight to create a safer world for us all, and work with partners so that the right solutions reach those who need them the most.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies