I support the recent call from Tim Page, chief executive of CAMRA, for industry trade bodies to do more to combat the tide of anti-alcohol propaganda from so-called “public health”. This often takes the form of research undertaken or funded by anti-alcohol charities, but how are these charities themselves funded?
In England the two main neo-prohibitionist charities are Alcohol Research UK (ARUK) and Alcohol Concern (AC). These two announced a merger in December 2016, and the shiny, new organisation that will combine supposedly objective alcohol research from ARUK with the anti-alcohol campaigning of AC will launch later this year. So, why is this merger happening?
AC lost funding from the UK government after it withdrew from the government’s voluntary alcohol responsibility deal in 2012. Since then they’ve survived on handouts from the Welsh Assembly government and the National Lottery fund, plus some money from big pharmaceutical companies that produce “treatments” for alcoholism, like Selincro. This wasn’t enough to sustain them, so a merger with ARUK, which has very similar charitable aims, provided a solution.
So, how is ARUK funded? ARUK’s research is paid for by the money earned from an investment fund that is managed for them by an asset management company called Investec. The investment fund was established in 1981 through the Licensing (Alcohol Education and Research) Act, following the winding up of the ‘Licensing Compensation Scheme’. This Scheme was effectively a tax levied on licensed premises that was established under the 1904 Licensing Act to provide compensation for the owners of licensed premises that were closed through no fault of their own, but where it was deemed that the density of licensed premises in an area was too high.
The Scheme was not popular. Temperance campaigners at the time called it “the Licensees’ Benevolent Fund” but the trade dubbed it “the Licensees’ Burial Fund.” It didn’t take long for the Scheme to fall into abeyance, but it was not until the 1981 Act that half of the residual funds were transferred to establish the Alcohol Education and Research Council. In 2011, the AERC was wound up and the investment fund was transferred to a new charity, Alcohol Research UK - ARUK.
On their website ARUK say they “will not accept funds, in cash or in kind, from the alcohol industry.” But: “Alcohol Research UK may accept donations from people who were formerly but are no longer employed in the industry and do not have a significant residual financial stake in it (e.g. through shareholdings).”
In practice this means ARUK won’t accept money from companies or people involved in the alcohol industry unless they’re dead! Living off a “Dead Licensees’ Fund” is leeching of the first order. Now they’re joining forces with the preachers of AC. This union of Leechy and Preachy is a marriage of financial convenience between the closet prohibitionists of ARUK and Poundland prohibitionists of AC and it may yet turn out to be an uneasy alliance. I think government should act to take back ARUK’s funding from the compensation scheme and give it to the Licensed Trade Charity, which helps people who have retired from the licensed trade and have personal or family problems.
And talking of preachiness provides an ideal segway to Alcohol Focus Scotland (AFS), Scotland’s alcohol charity. This organisation exemplifies the kind of batshit-mental extreme anti-alcohol zealotry that arises when campaigning and research are glued together by the swivel-eyed moral certainty of true believers.
Having championed minimum unit pricing in Scotland on the basis that it will be “good for pubs”, they are now calling for pubs to be closed, or not opened in the first place. AFS funded research, published this week, that made fatuous correlations between the density of licensed premises and crime rates. It found that in areas with the most pubs, clubs and off-licences crime rates were four times higher and alcohol hospitalisation rates and deaths twice as high as in areas with a low density of premises. It would probably turn out that there was a similar correlation between high crime rates and the density of street lighting, since the high density of anything except sheep is more likely in urban areas, but don’t let that stand in the way of a good headline! “Alcohol availability boosts crime rate” said the BBC news website.
Pause, sigh, breathe: we’ve been here before – this is a variant on the “availability drives consumption” argument that is constantly pushed by AFS, AC and ARUK. As the IEA’s director of lifestyle economics, Chris Snowdon, put it: “Suppliers respond to demand. If the ‘public health’ lobby could get this simple fact into their skulls they would be halfway towards understanding how the world works, and three-quarters of the way towards understanding that commercial activity is not a conspiracy against the public.”
And who funds AFS? Yes, it’s the SNP government – to the tune of £500,000 a year of Scottish taxpayers’ money. These faux charities can’t get sufficient voluntary donations, so whether its live taxpayers or dead ones, we don’t really get a choice, do we?