It’s All Your Fault!

by Neil Nisbet

Welcome dear reader. Settle back in your favourite armchair, get a hot cup of cocoa and a rich tea biscuit and make sure you’re settled. Why? Because Article19 is about to explain why the lack of funding for the arts is all your fault! That’s right it’s your fault and probably the fault of your neighbour’s and quite a few other people around this sceptered isle.

But worry not, because we are also about to explain how you, yes you again, can help to boost the level of finance for the arts by £2 billion and maybe a lot more besides. At the same time you will increase the quality of life for you and your family immeasurably and society in general will become a slightly better place to live in and it will be all thanks to you.

Going To The Source

The source of all the problems is really very simple, alcohol and tobacco or to be more precise the excesses of smoking and drinking. Now you’re probably wondering how on earth you puffing away on 20 cigarettes a day and getting legless every Friday, Saturday and probably Sunday night is causing the arts of this country to suffer. Well prick up your ears and we will begin.

The human cost of smoking is quite staggering. Every minute of every hour of every day, month and year four people die from smoking related disease in this country. This tallies up to 120,000 people every year [the global total is 4 million per year]. Now this alone should be reason enough for every cigarette user in the world to put down their lighter and packet of twenty.

8 million visits to the local GP are smoking related and those GP’s need to fill out 7 million prescriptions to deal with what is a self inflicted condition and 100% avoidable. Hospitals are required to admit 284,000 people every year to treat patients with a smoking related condition and 9,500 hospital beds are occupied every day by someone who smokes and is in hospital because of it. All of this costs the NHS £1.5 billion in direct spending every single year and that is a conservative estimate at best.

There is also a monetary cost to the economy through lost productivity from absenteeism of the workers who are being treated. A recent study showed that the Scottish economy lost some £40 million as a direct result of smoking related absentees in a single year. If we do some crude approximations, England has 8 times the population of Scotland so that figure could be around the £320 million mark for the hallowed land south of Berwick upon Tweed.

Alcohol is another tremendous bundle of fun when it comes to social and economic chaos. To be fair it doesn’t kill nearly as many people. 5,000 souls directly but estimates are as high as 33,000 when alcohol is seen to be an associated factor. Such loss of life would be bad enough in itself but the economic costs are much higher than for smoking.

The NHS spends some £3 billion of your money treating alcohol related illness and the costs to the economy as a whole are estimated to be in the region of £10 billion as a result of lost productivity and other social factors. This is nothing compared to the 920,000 children who live with one or both parents who are abusing alcohol or the 40% of violent crime that is directly connected to drunkenness or alcoholism and that is a whole debate in itself.

Who Me?

Now again dear reader I know what you’re thinking, “What am I supposed to do about it?’ Well it is all very simple, you quit! That’s right you just give up all the cigarettes and booze and let the revolution begin. He’s gone mad you say, totally stark staring bonkers, lost the plot and all manner of other things. Well that may well be the case but read on and I shall explain.

Let us imagine for just a little while that everyone in the land was to give up smoking and drinking all at the same time and the health and social benefits were immediate [which they wouldn’t be even if this happened]. What would life be like?

Initially the NHS would be relieved of the £5 billion burden of treating those with illnesses related to smoking and drinking. If we re-direct £1 billion into education on healthy eating, exercise programmes and treatment for other diseases then we’re off to the races.

Another £2 billion is directed into a specialist programme to educate, from the very young to the very old, the arts in the shape of theatre, music, books, dance, painting and so on. These programmes would be extensive; not the hit and run style community programmes that have to finish after six months because the money runs out.

For children, arts education would be integrated into their schools. The money could buy books by the million, just think of the bulk discount you would get from Waterstone’s when you explain you need 750,000 copies of the latest by Ian McKewan. Schools also use the money to buy DVD and Video material of plays, dance works, CD’s of orchestra’s and all other manner of contemporary music that is available to their students whenever they want it.

Students are also taken to the theatre to see the smallest and the largest companies ply their wares. Hell; we could even build professional theatres into some schools so they wouldn’t even have to pay to see the companies and this also has the benefit of professional touring companies coming into schools on a regular basis and students could see them actually working. With the willing of whatever God you worship they may even be able to encourage the children to think and talk about art in all its forms.

Now we have £2 billion left over and guess where that goes dear reader? Yes! You got it, to the arts production and touring budget. A two thousand million pound shot in the arm to the most undervalued and ignored sector of the public finance system in this country. A financial kick up the backside the likes of which makes the recent announcement of £70 million over 3 years look like what it is, a mealy mouthed gesture from a government without a clue.

It doesn’t stop there! Smoking alone generates some £9 billion in revenues for the government through taxes. If you’re not spending that money destroying your health it becomes something much more valuable, disposable income, say it with me dear reader “Disposable Income”. An average smoker, on 20 cigarettes a day, spends £1,600 a year on the habit. Some will spend more some less but it all adds up in the end.

Now the government has to recoup some of the lost tax revenue so income tax will have to go up a bit to cover that but you will have so much money burning a hole in your pocket you’re not going to notice anyway. So what do you do with this money? Well, you could save a little but the rest could be spent taking you and your family to the theatre. You could also buy lots of books and music you couldn’t afford previously because you were too busy coughing your lungs up or wondering what day of the week it was after the previous nights bingeing.

It’s Amazing (probably)

What is also amazing about this plan is your kids will be able to explain about the play or dance work you have just gone to see because they are being so well educated about these things at school. The final brilliance of this plan is that the increased subsidy to the arts makes tickets cost almost nothing so you have an increased amount of money to spend on something that is getting cheaper all the time. Just imagine taking your family of five to see the Royal Opera or The Royal Philharmonic for just ten pounds and you get to sit in the best seats in the house.

What you should also remember is you’re no longer drinking so you have all of that money to spend as well [figures for 1999 show that £11.5 billion was generated for the treasury by alcohol sales and UK households spent an astonishing £35 billion on purchasing alcohol].

This just gets better and better! You have loads of extra money, your children are being taught things that make them think, the arts sector jobs market has never looked healthier, you’re experiencing all these new things and your life expectancy just took a 20-year bump in the right direction. It’s all right; you don’t have to thank us.

Now the chances of any of this happening are of course absolutely nil. Alcohol and tobacco use are symptomatic of some massive problems in this country. The major problem being poverty. It is ironic that the people to whom this article refers will probably never read it because they have no computers or access to the Internet. It is also a tremendous irony that people with the least money are the ones who spend most of their income on smoking and drinking.

So, patient reader we return you to reality and we thank you for your time. Some theories are outlandish in their vision and claims and this is probably one of them. But when Article19 are proved right in the distant future remember where you read it first and don’t say we never told you.

Department of Health
Department of the Treasury
Action on Smoking and Health in the UK
Alcohol Concern
Arts Council of England
Guardian Newspapers Ltd