IPPR, the Institute for Public Policy Research, was the brainchild of Clive Hollick, who developed the idea for an independent progressive thinktank in 1986. With John Eatwell, Lord Hollick spent two years establishing the institute, which was publicly launched in 1988 with Tessa Blackstone as its first chair and the late James Cornford as its first director.

One of our first reports recommended congestion charging for London and since then IPPR has been at the forefront of progressive policy development.

In the wake of Labour’s fourth successive general election defeat in 1992, IPPR led the groundbreaking Commission on Social Justice, which helped to revitalise centre-left thinking and lay the ground work for Labour’s election victory in 1997. Tony Blair said of the report 'it will provide the basis for a vital national debate about the future of work and welfare. It is essential reading for everyone who wants a new way forward for our country.'

The secretary of the commission was David Miliband, one of many distinguished alumni of IPPR, who also include former Labour cabinet minister Patricia Hewitt and rising MPs Liz Kendall, Rushanara Ali and Tristram Hunt.

IPPR’s profile grew under the directorships of Gerald Holtham (1994-1998), Matthew Taylor (1999–2003) and Nick Pearce (2003–07), with Chris Powell serving for much of this time as chair. During these years, IPPR led thinking on devolution, elected mayors, family-friendly working, asset-based welfare, and public service reform. IPPR North was established in 2004, with an office opening in Newcastle.

IPPR was the winner of the prestigious Prospect Think Tank of the Year award in 2001 and in 2007 became the first repeat winner.

When Nick Pearce left to become Head of the Number 10 Policy Unit, Lisa Harker and Carey Oppenheim took over as co-directors (2007-2010). Among the notable achievements of that period was the highly influential Commission on National Security for the 21st Century, chaired by Paddy Ashdown and George Robertson.

In 2009, IPPR turned 21 and won the Green Think Tank of the year award for its ground breaking work on climate change.

John Makinson chairman and chief executive of the Penguin Group, served as chair of IPPR from 2007 until 2010, when former work and pensions secretary James Purnell took over, marking his return to IPPR, where he had worked as researcher nearly 20 years earlier.

Nick Pearce returned as director in September 2010, and IPPR moved to its current London offices in Buckingham Street.  

Since then IPPR has been growing, with new projects starting, extra research staff taken on, an increasing media profile, and a new IPPR North office opening in Manchester. Highly influential work during the period included developing a landmark strategy on housing, a project in conjunction with Peter Mandelson on the future of globalisation, a major project on promoting growth and shared prosperity, IPPR North’s Northern Economic Futures Commission and work on areas such as childcare, children’s social work and public sector reform.

In early 2013, IPPR launched a flagship programme of work called The Condition of Britain focusing on how British society has changed in recent decades and can be strengthened during tough times.

In February 2013, James Purnell stood down as chair of IPPR to take up the position of director of strategy and digital at the BBC. Former cabinet minister Andrew Adonis took up the role of chair shortly after.