Monday 18 May 2015

Alcohol Concern, Dry January and dodgy figures

Alcohol Concern has been dishing out awards to its Dry January champions. Tellingly, all but one of the awards has gone to public sector organisations. The sock puppet charity also put out a press release claiming that...

More than 2 million go dry for biggest Dry January yet

Alas, the figure of 'more than 2 million' was contradicted by the quote in the press release from Alcohol Con's head lobbyist...

Emily Robinson, Director of Campaigns at Alcohol Concern, said: “We’re incredibly proud of all our participants and fundraisers and want to recognise and celebrate those who took the biggest Dry January campaign yet to a new level.”

“The aim of Dry January is to help people to think about their drinking, and to get support in breaking bad habits. With over 50,000 people taking part, it’s great to see how people took this further and supported their friends and communities.

The figure of 50,000 has previously been cited by Alcohol Concern and it is the figure that appears on the Dry January website. It is much the more believable of the two.

When this was pointed out to Alcohol Concern they amended their press release... by removing the reference to 50,000 sign ups! (You can still see the quote in the various local rags that churnalised the press release eg. here and here.)

A tweet made it clear that only 50,000 had signed up for Dry January but two million 'were dry for January'.

Considering that there are more than two million observant Muslims and Methodists—not to mention children—it is not much of a claim to say that more than two million people happened to be teetotal in January. These people took part in Dry January in the same way that I took part in Elton John's boycott of Dolce and Gabbana. They were never likely to do otherwise.

In January, the Daily Mash published an article headlined 'Non-alcoholics enjoying pretend battle with drink'. Life has imitated satire.

Why this urge to inflate the figures by a factor of forty? Two possibilities spring to mind.

Firstly, Public Health England gave Alcohol Concern £500,000 to increase the profile of Dry January. I have written about this disgraceful squandering of taxpayers' money before, but even a bloated quango like Public Health England must conduct some sort of cost-benefit analysis after the event. 50,000 participants sounds pretty feeble (because it is). Two million sounds more impressive.

Secondly, Cancer Research UK does exactly the same thing in the same month under the name 'Dryathlon'. This year it got 54,000 people to sign up. The difference is that the Dryathlon doesn't suck up a penny of taxpayers' cash.

In short, Dry January wastes public money trying to do something that another charity does better, hence the need to fiddle the figures. If Public Health England throws another half a million pounds at Alcohol Con next year, there should be a public enquiry.

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