Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are addressing concerns associated with gambling harms as they impatiently await the release of the UK government's Gambling Act review white paper.
The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) warned of the public health challenge the country faces as a result of gambling and what steps it believes can be taken to address them in a blog post on Tuesday (December 13).
SPICe’s warning follows a report published a day earlier on the same topic, which highlighted the worsening cost of living crisis in the UK and the fact Scotland has no specialist National Health Service (NHS) clinics for people with gambling problems as key contributors to gambling harm.
To reduce gambling harms, the report makes several suggestions, calling out healthcare, education and local authorities to drive any changes within their power.
Learning lessons from other public health approaches such as alcohol, which has introduced brief healthcare interventions in Scotland, “could be effective for treating gambling harm. Public information campaigns and education on gambling harms may also reduce gambling harms,” the report states.
The report recommends replicating work in countries such as New Zealand, where a public health approach is enshrined in its gambling legislation.
Collecting longitudinal data like in Sweden for prevalence studies on gambling harms has also been singled out by industry stakeholders in Scotland, as they believe there is a lack of detailed data on harms.
“Currently most work in Scotland is carried out by charitable organisations and local authorities. However, often funding is limited and this reduces the potential for long-term, joined-up approaches,” the report says.
Gambling harms have been estimated to cost up to £1.16bn annually for Great Britain and up to £60m for Scotland, although “there is a great deal of uncertainty in this estimate as many important costs could not be accounted for”, according to SPICe.
Currently, Scotland has no government policy, strategy or plans to address gambling harms, according to the report.
Elsewhere in the UK, Frank Atherton, the chief medical officer for Wales, recently asked: “What can we learn from other sectors to apply a public health approach to address gambling harm?” during UK-based charity GambleAware’s tenth annual conference on December 7.
Atherton said “we cannot be seen as the fun police” but “we must get angry at things”.
The chief medical officer said the industry peddles a myth of individual responsibility, fears gambling has become normalised and warns that operators “dehumanise” customers as they chase increasing profits.
Atherton estimates that gambling costs the Welsh government £70m annually.
He said Public Health Wales is actively pushing for the white paper to be released in order to start addressing some of these issues.
Atherton wants more restrictions on advertising, a compulsory levy on the industry to fund research, to monitor the impact of gambling on children and young people, as well as a better understanding of the relationship between gambling and gaming.
During the same event, professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, told the conference the necessary evidence base surrounding gambling harm is “much weaker” than other public health areas, meaning there may need to be a change in the current approach to addressing harm.
Whitty wants to focus on areas and communities that are most affected as opposed to evenly distributing resources around the country to tackle harm.
Northern Ireland's All-Party Group On Reducing Harms Related To Gambling (APG) has recently launched an inquiry examining public health approaches to gambling-related harms, covering the wider social impacts of gambling, such as debt, family breakdown, domestic abuse and crime.
A call for written evidence was opened on December 13 and closes on February 3, 2022.
"A variety of people will be invited to give evidence, including health professionals, advocacy group representatives, academics, departmental officials and those with personal experience," according to the APG.
A report, based on the written and oral evidence, will be produced making policy recommendations.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) has introduced five new lesson plans and resources on gambling and gaming awareness.
The lessons are aimed at 11 to 14 year-old pupils and will look to address a range of topics including the impacts of advertising and the other methods used by gaming and gambling firms to attract customers.
The gambling and gaming awareness resources are already available.