Demos (UK think tank)

Not to be confused with Demos (US think tank).
Formation 1993 (1993)
Legal status Charity (no. 1042046)
  • London

Demos is a think tank based in the United Kingdom with a cross-party political viewpoint. It was founded in 1993 and specialises in social policy, developing evidence-based solutions in a range of areas - from education and skills to health and housing.

Demos also houses the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, which leads the study of how the rise of the digital world affects politics, policy and decision-making.

The current Chief Executive is Claudia Wood, who joined the think tank in 2009 and previously worked for Tony Blair’s strategy unit.

Demos publishes a quarterly journal, titled Demos Quarterly,[1] which features articles from politicians, academics and Demos researchers.

The organisation is an independently registered educational charity.


Demos was founded in 1993 by former Marxism Today editor Martin Jacques, and Geoff Mulgan, who became its first director. It was formed in response to what Mulgan, Jacques and others saw as a crisis in politics in Britain, with voter engagement in decline and political institutions unable in their view to adapt to major social changes. Demos was conceived as a network of networks which could draw together different sources of ideas and expertise to improve public policy.[2]

In the run-up to the 1997 general election it was seen as being close to the Labour Party, in particular its then leader Tony Blair. It defines itself, however, as independent of any political party.[3] Geoff Mulgan went on to work inside Downing Street in 1997. At that time Demos was seen as central to New Labour's vision for Britain.[4]

Between 1998 and 2006, under Director Tom Bentley, it moved away from being just a think tank and an increasing part of its workload was described as 'public interest consultancy'. It also did an increasing amount of work internationally. Demos works with a number of partners including government departments, public sector agencies and charities.[4]

In 2007, a brief spell by Madeleine Bunting as Director was followed by the appointment of Catherine Fieschi,[5] who stepped down in July 2008 and was succeeded by Richard Reeves,[6] a former economic journalist, Director of Research at the Work Foundation and biographer of John Stuart Mill. Reeves also co-presented the 2005 BBC programme 'Making Slough Happy', a social experiment to improve the well-being of residents of a British town.[7]

On 9 August 2006, in a speech at a Demos conference, British Home Secretary Dr John Reid stated that Britons 'may have to modify their notion of freedom', as a result of his plans, claiming that freedom is 'misused and abused by terrorists.'[8]

Over the summer of 2008, Demos cut back its workforce (from 23 full-time staff in January 2008[9] to 17 by September 2008[10]) and did not attend any political party conferences, leading to speculation that it was in financial difficulty.[11][12]

In 2010, David Cameron, then leader of the opposition Conservative Party, launched Demos’s Character Inquiry, giving a speech on the importance of parenting and early years support.[13]

Later that year, Demos started the Commission on Assisted Dying, which looked into the 'legal and ethical status of assisted dying'.[14][15]

Following his appointment in 2010, as Special Adviser to the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, Richard Reeves stepped down as Demos's Director and was replaced by former Economic Secretary to the Treasury Kitty Ussher.[16] She left Demos in 2012, with David Goodhart taking over as Director.

In January 2012, Demos set up the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM) to research trends in social media, and the role online conversations can play in political engagement and social policy research. CASM led digital media monitoring for the 2015 British Election and focuses on how the rise of the digital world affects politics, policy and decision-making.[17]

In January 2014, Claudia Wood became Demos's Chief Executive. She had joined Demos in 2009, after leading policy in other UK think tanks and in Tony Blair’s strategy unit.[18] Demos's Research Director is Duncan O'Leary.[19] The organisation focuses on nine policy areas, under four core research programmes: Welfare and Public Services, Health and Social Care, Citizenship, and Finance and Business.[20]

Current projects

Demos has four core research programmes, which cover nine policy areas: Health and Social Care, Welfare and Pensions, Citizenship and Integration, Education and Skills, Radicalisation and Extremism, Environment and Energy, Housing and Communities and the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM).

Demos undertook extensive research ahead of the 2015 general election, to encourage citizen engagement, voting, and education. Of particular note was the 'Tune In, Turn Out' project,[21] which mapped the electoral power of young people. Demos continues to undertake research and analysis into the involvement of young people in politics, and in civic action more generally, culminating in the 'Service Nation 2020'[22] report into youth social action and volunteering.

Education and skills are a core research area for Demos. An important recent project was 'A Tale of Two Classrooms',[23] which mapped the attainment gap and found that it was widening between disadvantaged and other students. Demos also led the seminal Commission on Apprenticeships,[24] which was co-chaired by Robert Halfon MP and Lord Maurice Glasman.

During 2015, Demos also did research focusing on how the education system can better develop character in students. This included 'Character Nation'[25] and 'Learning by Doing',[26] which specifically focused on the impact that targeted partnerships with organisations such as Scouting UK could have on helping to develop children's 'soft skills'.

Demos has a long history of leading research into poverty and welfare. In March 2015, Demos released 'British Aisles', which looked for a more sustainable and dignified long-term solution to food poverty.[27] Another major project is 'Rethinking the Work Capability Assessment',[28] which looks for fairer, more effective and less costly approaches to assessing eligibility for the main out-of-work disability benefit.

Other recent notable projects include 'Rising to the Top', which mapped the barriers British Muslims face in accessing the top professions,[29] 'Under-Served', which highlighted failings in care for injured ex-Veterans, and the 'Character and Moderation' report[30] into youth alcohol consumption.

CASM leads work on improving social science research methods for digital platforms,[31] including assessing its potential to assist in election monitoring and communication.[32] It also focuses heavily on the use of digital technologies for the purposes of counter-terrorism,[33] including look at Counter-Speech[34] as a community-based solution. Other core research topics include the rise of populism[35] and surveillance.[36]

Demos has an open access policy, which means that all its publications are available to freely download under a Creative Commons licence.

Demos is unrelated either to the US think tank of the same name or to Demos Helsinki, the Nordic research and development organisation.

See also


  1. Demos Quarterly
  2. Times Higher Education - Demos's brave new words
  3. Demos | About Demos
  4. 1 2 The Daily Telegraph: The top twelve think tanks in Britain
  5. The Guardian: Madeleine Bunting quits Demos and returns to the Guardian
  6. The Spectator: Richard Reeves to be the new director of Demos
  7. BBC News | Health | Path to true happiness 'revealed'
  8. BBC News | Politics | Terror 'may force freedom curbs'
  9. "Demos | People". Archived from the original on 18 January 2008.
  10. Demos | People
  11. The Daily Telegraph: Demos, architect of Cool Britannia, denies financial problems
  12. The Guardian: Demos thinktank shuns party conferences
  13. David Cameron launches Demos' Character Inquiry
  14. "About the Commission on Assisted Dying". Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  15. Helm, Toby (1 January 2012). "End the ban on assisted suicide, report will urge the government". The Observer. Retrieved 1 January 2012.
  16. Demos (16 September 2010). "Demos appoints Kitty Ussher as Director". Archived from the original on 20 March 2013. Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  17. Centre for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM) at Demos
  18. Claudia Wood | biography
  20. Our Work at Demoss
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