Government Report Says Gambling Harms Cost England £1.27bn

October 1, 2021
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The UK government is being urged to treat harmful gambling as a public health issue, as a new Department of Health report estimates the cost to English society to be in excess of £1.27bn a year.

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The UK government is being urged to treat harmful gambling as a public health issue, as a new Department of Health report estimates the cost to English society to be in excess of £1.27bn a year.

Half of the estimated economic burden is a direct cost to the government, which is “likely to be underestimated due to a lack of available evidence”, according to Public Health England’s (PHE) evidence review of gambling-related harms.

The analysis includes the first estimate of the economic cost of suicides (£619.2m) caused by gambling and an updated cost of homelessness associated with harmful gambling (£62.8m).

A lack of evidence meant financial, health, employment, education and crime were only partially costed, while cultural harms and impact on relationships were not costed at all.

The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) was quick to point out on social media that part of the estimated costs are based on the government treating issues such as depression, alcohol dependence, illegal drug use and “assumed costs of other complex areas” without being able to say definitively that these issues are caused by gambling.

“The government has rightly said that they want an evidence-led approach to gambling reform — that’s got to apply to PHE as well,” the BGC said.

However, newly-appointed gambling minister Chris Philp said the review will form part of the evidence base needed to “reset the balance” between allowing people to gamble freely and protecting at-risk gamblers.

“We are determined to protect vulnerable people from exploitation by aggressive advertising or unfair practices that entrench problem gambling,” Philp said.

In 2016, think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) estimated problem gamblers cost the government between £260m and £1.16bn annually in Great Britain.

Between October 2020 and March 2021, UK betting and gaming tax receipts totalled £2.83bn, 6 percent lower than the same period during the previous financial year as the industry dealt with the impacts of COVID-19.

Another think tank, the Social Market Foundation (SMF), released a report earlier this year that acknowledged in 2019 the gross value added by gambling to the country’s GDP was £8bn and that the sector supports around 85,000 jobs in the UK.

However, it advised policymakers to try and channel consumer spend into other areas.

“It seems very unlikely that this economic contribution is truly additional to what would have taken place if gambling did not exist,” it argued.

The PHE review provides evidence that gender and poor mental health are the strongest indicators of gambling related harm.

Additionally, the review found a clear link between higher levels of alcohol consumption and harmful gambling.

Only 35.4 percent of non-drinkers participating in gambling exhibited harmful behaviours compared with 74.4 percent of those consuming more than 50 units of alcohol per week.

Men were found to be 4.2 times more likely than women to be gambling at levels of elevated risk of harm.

People identified with mental health issues were two times as likely to participate in harmful gambling.

Additionally, people with mental health conditions were 2.4 times more likely to experience gambling-related harms.

The findings are similar to those of a Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare study that found a clear link between harmful gambling behaviours, people receiving social benefits and the unemployed.

Rosanna O’Connor, director of Alcohol, Drugs, Tobacco and Justice at PHE, added that the PHE review reflects a need to make support services for all affected by gambling harms easily accessible.

PHE is now undertaking a Delphi study, which surveys panels of experts, as it seeks public health solutions to address gambling-related harms.

The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities is also partnering with government departments and other stakeholders to develop a plan to address existing knowledge gaps caused by a lack of data.

To plug this gap, PHE wants a systematic review of longitudinal studies of risk factors in adults, which would look at how community and societal factors can influence harmful gambling, as well as longitudinal quantitative studies on harms, including those affecting others and society.

Gambling Commission executive director Tim Miller said the “important” PHE report would help support the work of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms.

Separately, a recent Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (GREO) report in support of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms in Great Britain offers an evidence base for policies, programmes and practices aimed at reducing gambling harms through prevention and education.

At just over 400 pages, the report covers universal measures that benefit the whole of society, selective measures that benefit at-risk groups and indicates measures that benefit at-risk individuals, such as self-exclusion.

The GREO report could offer policymakers some insight into what measures could be implemented to effectively reduce harms.

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