Friday 15 November 2019

Charity begins at home for nanny state academics

Last year, I wrote about a peculiar piece of junk science which claimed that a modest change to Chile's sugar tax had a dramatic effect on the amount of sugary drinks consumed. The authors claimed that consumption fell by 22 per cent after the tax rose, despite presenting evidence that quite clearly showed it made no difference whatsoever. Modelling, innit?

In my original blog post I made a throwaway remark about the study being produced by English academics rather than Chilean ones...

For some reason, the tax has been evaluated by some academics at York University...

That little mystery was solved when I read the first draft of Nanny State on Tour, a new report from the IEA written by Mark Tovey, and discovered that the study had been funded out of the UK's foreign aid budget. Moreover, it cost £348,108!

Chile is the richest country in South America. Crackpot modelling of nanny state policies doesn't fit many people's ideas of 'aid'. So what the hell is going on?

Well, it appears that various special interests have got their hands on bits of our massive £14 billion a year foreign budget. The money is supposed to be spent on poverty reduction. Instead, as Mark shows, millions have been captured by the likes of Graham MacGregor (Action on Sugar) to pursue their pet projects.

Highlights include:

  • £6.8 million spent on a ‘research unit’ to reduce the amount of salt housewives add while cooking in China 
  • £130,605 spent researching the ‘acceptability and feasibility’ of taxing sugary drinks in India
  • £1 million spent tightening tobacco control laws in Colombia
  • £800,000 spent training Imans in Bangladesh to preach about secondhand smoke 
  • £207,567 spent on a literature review that found literally nothing

In some respects, this is the old story of UK taxpayers' money being wasted on stupid project overseas, but it's actually worse than that. In many case, nothing is happening overseas. The money and personnel never leave the UK. Well-to-do academics at British universities are pocketing six figure sums for doing one-sided research about issues which have nothing to do with poverty reduction and precious little to do with the pressing health issues of the developing world.

It is yet another gravy train and it has come about, in part, because the government has allowed departments other than DfID to distribute foreign aid cash. The Department of Health, in particular, has turned this into a slush fund for the benefit of the usual suspects (not the only one, as we saw yesterday).

Mark summarised his research for the Sun yesterday and Nick Booth has written a nice little op-ed about it here.

But you really need to read the whole thing so download Nanny State On Tour now.

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