I visit Tesco very infrequently, mainly to stock up on Giant Beans in Tomato Sauce (01). At the checkout my change included a couple of 1p coins that, without thinking, I popped into the charity can. Then I looked at the label. It said... Cancer Research UK!
That happened a couple of weeks ago and I'm still smarting. Yet it was a cheap wake up call because, since then, I've been looking at each and every charity can with a greater awareness of just how commonplace they are.
And their charity shops are woven into the fabric of any town of consequence.
Cancer Research UK shop Stockbridge, Edinburgh
The Yellow Pages list eleven for Edinburgh and a further five in towns nearby. And they've got 600 throughout the country, all getting their stock for free and what they receive when re-selling is almost all pure profit.
I wonder how many people directly affected by the smoking ban are aware that CRUK is a primary sponsor of ASH and all the Centres for Tobacco Control? Probably not that many. Or that they have a penchant for running block petitions on their web site. They ran one up to the 23 July 2012 in support of plain packs.
These are infamous because their results are padded by individuals using work/home/second/Internet cafe computers to log on using fake IDs - and many of their helpers are their own staff, volunteers, or friends in the medical profession. They've done it before and admitted the technique. They've got 3,985 permanent or fixed term staff (02), fund 4000 researchers and doctors and have 44,500 volunteers to help staff their shops or organise fund raising activities, so you can be certain any "petition" they initiate will have 50,000 plus "signatures".
They love recessions because landlords have few choices and will sign up to predatory long term deals when they can't rent to the productive sector. The hidden value of 44,500 volunteers is worth tens of millions of Pounds to CRUK and the whole lot's tax free. Little wonder they couldn't care less if every pub, greasy spoon or betting shop in the country closed - far less competition and lots of opportunities for them to open another retail "presence" in another High Street.
At some point CRUK moved away from funding basic research and informing. Now it's evolved into a dictatorial, highly corrosive front with tunnel vision. Their priorities are funding and self preservation, while attempting to justify their relevance by "influencing public policy" and "funding scientific model systems". In short it's a conduit to fund pressure groups, while playing at follow the leaders. That's why most of the breakthroughs' in cancer treatments come from places like South Korea, Japan and outfits involved in gene research.
CRUK, like many other established charities, face many challenges. Increased competition from other more relevant (patient support) cancer charities, increased awareness of their involvement in the smoking ban, accusations of yet another fake charity and crucially, amongst the more level headed and analytical donors, bangs for their bucks. Against this important and frequently used comparative measure their track record is abysmal. This article gives an in depth study of their employment conditions which, by any standards, are extremely generous. It then goes on to state that in the year ending 2007 CRUK had an income of £468 million, of which 80% went to the front line (03). Only 4 years later Wiki tells us that ratio had dropped to a pathetic 69% from an income of £483 million (04). It's top heavy (with full time staff going up by over 10%), poorly managed, incompetent and rotten to the core.
Looking at some of the "researchers" they fund, they claim Deborah Arnott of ASH England is one of their "researchers" (05) and ASH Wales proudly displays their logo as well as that of the British Heart Foundation, both being "supporters" (06). ASH Scotland used to be "supported" by Cancer Research UK, however their logo has gone from that website, with only the British Heart Foundation remaining (07). Both are funded almost entirely by donations, given in good faith by people who have been conned by seductive pleas to help, give, donate or bequest.
CRUK is to charities as Al Qaeda is to religion, an abomination. To give time, money or unwanted goods to Cancer Research UK is no different than supporting any terrorist organisation. They're intent on the complete destruction of everything they consider haraam and to hell with the economic or social consequences.
But they don't stop at voluntary donations. They've used their contacts in Big Lottery to help finance their satellite pressure group - ASH - with £865,000 going to ASH (Wales) in 2012 and £500,000 to ASH (Scotland) in 2011 (08). So, if they can't raise funds from the public by one means, they'll jolly well take them by another.
But gullibility isn't the sole preserve of Joe Public, they've conned huge amounts out of "corporate sponsors", some they list are:
They exclude outfits like Tesco that accept their charity cans for placement close to their checkout tills. There are tens of thousands of those cans, all picking up a couple of Pounds a week in small change. Nor do they include unsold books, left luggage and a myriad of other non-cash donations that they retail through their shops.
However there is one piece of good news. Lloyds TSB quit with the sponsored credit cards (09) and seem disinclined to continue financing the prime cause of small business failures.
We may be met with a brick wall when it comes to most politicians, however shareholders of publicly listed companies that support CRUK, or any out of control charity, can ask their Investor Relations department searching questions. Shareholders don't need to go into a great long explanation about CRUK, all they need do is refer them to Tobacco Tactics (10) and point out that it's partly through their corporate donations that CRUK was able to help pay to set up a website that slanders ordinary citizens, attempts to bully politicians and does its level best to ruin the careers of professionals who disagree with their view of the world (11).
Very few corporations want to be associated with something as base as Tobacco Tactics. Once they see it for what it is, they quickly grasp how embarrassing it might be for their Chairman to have to give reasons for why they do at the next shareholders meeting!
One thing this has taught me is smokers need to get on to this charity bandwagon. It would be awesome if F2C, TCT or TICAP could set up a charity wing and start handing out donation cans. Get that up and running and it'll be a great deal more than 2p from me!
Update. February 2016.
There's a feeling of satisfaction seeing the term "fake charity" become commonplace with Cancer Research UK almost invariably associated with that term, co-joined with the British Heart Foundation. David Craig has written a book on the subject entitled "The Great Charity Scandal" and gives a few examples in his blog (12).
I see that over the past 3.5 years Cancer Research UK has divested itself of ASH (Scotland) as well as the Centre for Tobacco Control at Stirling University. Tobacco Tactics is no longer supported financially by CRUK; that now comes under the umbrella of "The Tobacco Control Research Group" and includes the re-branded "UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies" (13). They're now paid for by the Medical Research Council, Government bodies (namely the Department of Health - directly or through their fronts) and Charities. In short, apart from window dressing by charities, the whole lot's been handed over to the public purse.
There's a history of this sort of thing by so called "charities" and "advocacy groups": set up the front, make it viable, then hand it over to the UK taxpayer, invariably through the Department of Health. ASH is a good example, it was established by the Royal College of Physicians and is now financed by Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and the Department of Health (14).
However despite their attempts to get rid of some of their ancillary groups, a recent article from the Daily Mail (15) shows CRUK is now spending only 64% of what it receives on "research". So the percentage continues to drop while salaries, terms and conditions of full time employees at CRUK remain in the top quartile, with their CEO pocketing £240,000 a year as the Daily Express highlights (16).
Reading the comments it seems to me that "big charity" is not held in high regard by a large swathe of the general public. It's not that we resent giving to worthwhile causes, we don't - so long as they deliver. But these super-sized juggernauts no longer seem to be fit for purpose and that's perhaps why I see notices in the windows of so many charity shops seeking volunteers. Interpret that as you will, however my take is there's a reluctance by ordinary people to give money or their time to something that's got such a poor public image. Where's the pride in doing your bit, when it's really just an excuse for a few people to line their pockets at the expense of the compassionate and - as we see - to create such divisive entities as Tobacco Tactics and Centres for Tobacco Control?
There's little doubt that the general public are thoroughly disillusioned with many large charities and what happened with Kids Company riled many taxpayers who saw £3 million of their money thrown away. It's got to the editors of many newspapers and is finally beginning to gain traction with some politicians, with Charlie Elphicke, a Conservative MP stating "this will further undermine trust in our charities" (17).
And on the 25 January 2016 a Commons Select Committee produced their report on the fund raising scandal. It's a pleasure to read, hugely critical, short and to the point (18). One conclusion that's been blindingly obvious to most observers is:
"The... trustees were either not competent, or wilfully blind to what was being done in their names."
In fact they're both, incompetent and wilfully blind.
As a case study in the "ripple effect", this is proving to be a classic!
Smoking Scot August 2012
Updated February 2016