Friday 15 December 2017

Alcohol policy and the ‘public health’ succubus

There is no doubt the neo-temperance health lobby’s victory over minimum unit pricing will embolden them to campaign even harder for other measures designed to take the retail sale of alcohol down the tobacco route. During the coming year, we can expect the following:

– Implementation of minimum unit pricing in Scotland with the price set initially at 50p per unit (they’re consulting on the level as I write)

– Legislation to introduce minimum pricing in Wales (the process has begun already)

– Further agitation to introduce it in England (probably not this side of Brexit)

Further action to raise duty on higher-strength products (the UK government has already committed to introduce higher duty levels on high-strength cider regardless of its method of production but I suspect it won’t stop with cider)

Long-term neo-temperance can be expected to campaign for: 

– Tighter controls on alcohol advertising because they mistakenly believe advertising drives market volume not brand or category volume

– Calls to end alcohol producers’ sponsorship of football and other sports

– Health warnings on labels and beer fonts such as “alcohol is linked to seven types of cancer”

– Graphic photographs depicting alcohol-related health problems

– Plain packaging in the name of “save the children”

– Agitation for a ‘health’ licensing objective. The UK government has ruled this out in its response to the House of Lords review of the Licensing Act 2003 but health authorities will continue trying to smuggle in health objections to licensing applications disguised as public safety or crime and disorder objections

Public funding and sock puppets
The collusion between the organisations of neo-temperance and Public Health England (PHE) will continue. The most blatant example of this collusion was the way in which PHE and the Institute of Alcohol Studies, whose members and fellow travellers packed the so-called independent Guidelines Development Group, pressured the Sheffield Alcohol Research Group to massage the figures to produce the new “low-risk” drinking guidelines of 14 units of alcohol per week.

The relentless scaremongering of Alcohol Concern and Alcohol Research UK (ARUK) will continue. These organisations have now merged because Alcohol Concern has found feasting in the public funding meadow has become more difficult. ARUK, of course, relies on legacy funding from investments made when it inherited money from winding up of the Licensees Compensation Scheme, which was a licensed trade levy established in 1904 to compensate licensees whose premises were closed because the authorities decreed there were too many licensed premises in their area.

Alcohol Focus Scotland and Balance Northeast continue to be a pair of taxpayer-funded sock-puppet charities and they will also continue with their relentless anti-alcohol campaigning. However, the daddy of them all is PHE. This organisation is not a charity but an executive agency of the Department of Health that enjoys organisational autonomy from government. In other words, a quango. PHE says it exists to “protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing and reduce health inequalities”. I don’t know about you but I always thought most of that was done by the NHS – but no! In April 2013, PHE was set up and lists as it its major achievements the campaigns it has run over alcohol misuse, supporting the introduction of a sugar tax and fighting the obesity “epidemic”. Its goals and world view on beverage alcohol are identical to those of the neo-temperance lobby, as witnessed by its presiding over the “low-risk” guidelines fiasco.

What does PHE cost the taxpayer and how many people does it employ? Its funding from the taxpayer is more than £4bn a year and it employs 5,500 people! About £3.3bn of this money is distributed to local councils, which are meant to shoulder the main burden of promoting public health and wellbeing in their areas, a job they should never have been given in the first place. Stick to emptying the bins guys! It seems to me most of PHE’s expenditure is a monumental waste of money. In terms of the money it retains for its own activities, its main role is to spend government money lobbying for policy change from government. If it was closed, would we miss it? We never needed it before 2013 but now it is apparently indispensable. 

Closing PHE and taking back control of that £4bn a year would enable us to put nearly £77m a week into the NHS. I think someone should get that painted on the side of a bus!

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