Yet another fox in the NHS chicken coop?

When the late Captain Sir Tom Moore walked around his garden to raise over £39M for more than 240 NHS-linked charities last year, he exemplified a rich and long vein of philanthropism that runs through the UK. The idea of giving to charity to support those who are less well-off (or indeed other things like heritage or wildlife) is part of our culture and really took off during the Victorian era. The idea of charity, and the work of charities, (the two are related but different) have been more important than ever during the year of the covid19 pandemic. Charity and the work of charities always become more prominent during times of emergency and chaos.

Before the creation of the Welfare State in 1945, charity and philanthropy (mainly driven by Christian ethics) played a much larger part in supporting people in times of crisis. For instance, in 1922 the Winter Distress League was created by the great and the good with the intention of providing support, in the first instance, to First World War veterans and their families. The driving force behind the Winter Distress League was the prominent philanthropist Ethel Wood, aunt of the former Lord Chancellor Lord Hailsham. Wood was sufficiently influential to have attained the first ever charity appeal on the BBC and further radio appeals followed.

The Winter Distress League worked to support destitute ex-servicemen by providing jobs, clothes, grants for tradesmen to reclaim their pawned tools; and to provide boarding for destitute children. Reports on the WDL‘s activities describe how their funds were used to pay (“at Trade Union rates”) for ex-servicemen to work carrying out repairs and decorating hospitals, with many “unsolicited testimonials” attesting to the quality of the work and the diligence of the workers. An “electric home-cleaning service” was acquired by the WDL in 1924, providing jobs for “better class ex-servicemen” using portable electric suction cleaning machines (yes, vacuum cleaners!). A workroom was created to employ destitute women to mend clothes for men so they could appear presentable when seeking work – remember this is before the Great Depression which struck in 1929. Payments were also made for children to be sent from London to villages where they could be cared for a few weeks or months, presumably while their parents were supported to find work.

During the Great Depression the WDL’s work expanded out beyond the needs of ex-service personnel to include the unemployed masses. By 1936 the WDL employed men to drain and clear land for the creation of allotments to produce food, though the take-up had been mixed, after some had had their unemployment relief payments cut by the value of the food produced. 

It’s interesting to note similarities with the Nazi Winterhilfe, although, as with so many things, the Nazis merely appropriated a pre-existing non-Nazi initiative. Winter Relief programmes in Germany had been going since 1924.

After the Second World War the creation of the Welfare State meant that the WDL had lost its original purpose, but it reinvented itself as The Employment Fellowship, concerned with “the detrimental effects of abrupt work-ending” or retirement impact. The EF focused on providing work for the retired, through “sheltered work rooms where elderly workers could be employed for two hours  a day on small assembly and packing jobs for local employers.”

A whole network of local Employment Fellowship charities was created during the post-war era and an Employment Fellowship Trust was established as a charity in 1983 and eventually folded in 2001. Fellowship Trust retirement workshops were created, often with the support of Rotarian Clubs – by 1983 there were 150 centres supporting 6000 old age pensioners, and local Employment Fellowship Trusts were created to support local centres. For example a local Employment Fellowship Trust charitable objectives were

“to provide elderly persons …through the medium of remunerative employment… with facilities for physical and mental recreation … furthering health, relieving poverty or distress…”

This was about keeping the elderly employed for as long as possible, partly to provide an income (the state pension was still fairly minimal at the time and workplace pensions were also unusual) and partly to provide what was regarded as the dignity of work.

In 1948 the Age Endeavour Fellowship was also created as a descendant of the Winter Distress League “to relieve poverty or distress of the elderly… and be concerned with unemployment of the elderly” but I have found nothing about its work until 2005, when it funded research by the Foundation of Nursing Studies “Evaluating the Impact of Nurse-Led Projects on the Care of Older People.”and again in 2009. So far, so uneventful.

Then in 2009 the AEF charitable constitution was amended, but no obvious activity took place until 2013, when a new chair, a retired neuro-surgeon, Edward Datnow, appeared in public to proclaim a new report from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) on how retirement caused a “drastic decline in health” and

“More employers need to consider how they will capitalise on Britain’s untapped grey potential and those seeking to retire should think very hard about whether it is their best option.”

In 2012 Andy Mayer, a lobbyist for chemical giant BASF, became an AEF trustee. The same Andy Mayer became Chief Operating Officer at the IEA in 2018.

Then in 2014 an IEA staffer, Sam Collins, pops up as Director of the AEF and at the same time the IEA’s health lobbyist Kristian Niemietz styles himself a Fellow of the Age Endeavour Fellowship. This sounds very grand and indicates his interests lie beyond the grand old neoliberal engine of 55 Tufton Street. The title ‘Fellow’ could be construed as implying that he is associated with an academic organisation or ‘Learned Society’.

In 2014 the IEA/AEF produced a report calling for the state pension to be halved in return for a national insurance rebate. The report concluded that

“lower pension ages and a higher level of state pension reduce average retirement ages.” It also suggested that older people working longer would “improve the sustainability of public finances” which is code for cutting taxes, something the IEA has always advocated.

Advocating older people working longer to cut taxes seems a long way from the charitable objective “to relieve distress”.

In 2015 the AEF “brought on board Dr Kristian Niemietz in order to represent the charity in print and at events, particularly regarding the National Health Service and ways it can be improved for older people.” (AEF annual report 2015/16)

In October 2015 Dr Niemietz, Fellow of the AEF, contended that the NHS was “not worth defending” at a Battle of Ideas Festival. The Battle of Ideas Festivals are organised by the Spiked/Living Marxism cabal of libertarians, closely allied with the Tufton Street think tanks, of which IEA is the king.

It’s not entirely clear how this stance sits with the charitable objects of the AEF, whose beneficiaries – the elderly -undoubtedly benefit greatly from the relief of distress associated with ill health by their Health Service. Was the AEF chair Edward Datnow, former NHS neurosurgeon and vice-president of the Epilepsy Society; and President of the National Brain Appeal, signed up to this agenda to get rid of the NHS?

There is very little information available online about the AEF – they used to have a website but that disappeared a few years ago and saved versions on the internet archive are blank. According to their annual report, back in 2016 the AEF was sitting on over £600,000 in reserves, but most of its expenditure was, yes you guessed it, going to the IEA.

as this table shows, income exceeded outgoings until 2012 when suddenly the charity was spending far more than it raised. It’s almost as though fundraising efforts stopped and income was just derived from investments . This was certainly the case in the year for which I have the annual report, when £7883 of investment income was received and just £1000 in donations and legacies. For the year 2019/20, income was £8534 outgoings £28218, so the pattern continues.

Unrestricted funds fell from £673k to £618k that year (2015/16). While £1000 of bursaries and grants were awarded that year (to the Jeremy Singer Charitable Trust), the AEF made a donation of £18000 to the IEA. The previous year saw a donation of £24,500 to the IEA, with support costs of between £7000 and £8000 each year, and £1200 of this going on audit fees.

It’s worth noting at this point that the charitable status of the IEA, as an ultra-conservative thinktank, has been and continues to be challenged. Indeed the Charity Commission gave them an official warning over a explicitly pro-Brexit report, although that warning was later withdrawn.

But doesn’t it look odd that a charity whose purpose was to “relieve poverty or distress of the elderly” is now almost solely supporting a hyper libertarian thinktank which advocates destroying the NHS, with an IEA officer as its Director, and IEA Director as Trustee and the IEA NHS abolisher-in-chief as its sole Fellow – and financial beneficiary?