Last year I described problem gambling and addiction as Britain’s hidden epidemic. There are over 430,000 problem gamblers in the UK with a further 2 million at risk...25,000 of these are under 16, with 350,000 under 16s gambling every week. Gambling advertising has rocketed – increasing by 600% since 2007.
That’s why I have looked at treatment and prevention of problem gambling alongside my colleagues in Labour’s shadow health team.
Today we have published our findings and recommendations, which include:
1. A ‘whistle to whistle’ ban on gambling advertising during live sport
2. A compulsory 1% levy on gambling operators to fund the RET (research education and treatment) of problem gambling
3. New clinical guidelines and increased resources to improve NHS addiction/mental health services
4. A ban on betting using credit cards, where people bet with money they do not have
5. New rules to allow gamblers to instruct their banks to block gambling debit card transactions
Tom Watson, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and Jonathan Ashworth, Shadow Health Secretary, announced at Labour Party Conference 2017 that we were launching a review of NHS treatment of gambling addiction. The terms of reference for the review are below.
We wanted to hear from anyone with an interest in the topic, including health professionals, gambling companies and those working in and around the gambling industry, and those with personal experience of gambling addiction.
Submissions are now closed.
The Gambling Commission estimates that 0.9% of people aged 16+ were classified as problem gamblers in 2015, and 3.9% were classified as low or moderate risk gamblers. This implies that as many as 2.3 million people in the UK are problem gamblers or at risk of addiction.
According to the NHS, problem gambling can cause physical and mental health problems, including anxiety disorders and depression. Gambling addicts are more likely to go to prison as a result of criminal activity – largely theft and fraud. There is also a link between gambling and alcohol abuse, with many gambling addicts also addicted to alcohol.
A recent report by IPPR and GambleAware found that the total cost to the taxpayer of problem gambling, including through mental health services, police intervention and homelessness, could be as much as £1.2 billion a year.
Best practice and current NHS provision
The NHS says that there is evidence that gambling addiction can be successfully treated in the same way as other addictions, including with cognitive behavioural therapy. Specialised addiction services that mainly focus on substance misuse often treat gambling problems.
There is currently only one specialist NHS clinic for problem gamblers in England and Wales, in West London.
- Is the current level of provision of mental health and other health services for those experiencing gambling addiction adequate?
- How far are existing mental health services, including the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme and addiction services which do not specifically focus on gambling, capable of supporting people with gambling problems?
- Would treatment for those experiencing gambling addiction be best provided through specialist gambling addiction services or through more general mental health provision?
- Would the establishment of more specialist NHS clinics for problem gamblers be useful and cost-effective?
As well as improving treatment and support, we want to make it harder for people to be sucked into gambling addiction. This includes ensuring that children are not attracted into gambling or able to gamble before the legal minimum age of 18.
Labour has already announced that it will lower the maximum state on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2, and work with the FA to ban football shirt sponsorship by gambling companies. We want to look at what further measures might be needed.
- What evidence is there on the impact of gambling advertising and sponsorship on problem gambling behaviour?
- What evidence is there on the effectiveness of “responsible gambling” messages in encouraging people to gamble more responsibly?
- What additional measures are needed to prevent gambling by children?
- Are there any changes to gambling legislation and regulation which would make an impact on the levels of problem gambling and gambling addiction?
A compulsory levy on gambling companies
Labour has already announced that it will introduce a compulsory levy on gambling companies to replace the current voluntary system. The Gambling Act 2005 provides for such a compulsory levy to be introduced.
At present, licensed gambling companies are required to make an unspecified contribution towards research, education and treatment of problem gamblers. GambleAware suggests a voluntary contribution of 0.1% of each licensed gambling company's Gross Gambling Yield.
The Gross Gambling Yield last year was a record £13.8 billion. In the year to 31 March 2017, GambleAware says that it raised over £8 million from the gambling industry. This is well short of the £10 million target set by the Responsible Gambling Strategy Board, and the suggested voluntary contribution of 0.1% of the Gross Gambling Yield. But companies do not have to make their contribution to GambleAware, and are not required to publish how much they contribute or where they contribute it, so we do not know how much they give.
- What would be the appropriate level at which to set a compulsory levy?
- How should the levy be distributed? Should gambling companies be allowed to decide where their levy should be spent or should it be paid to the Gambling Commission and allocated centrally? Should organisations conducting research, education and treatment of problem gamblers be able to bid for funding from the levy?
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