Britain's Hidden Epidemic Of Gambling Addiction Has Been Left Unaddressed For Too Long

Tom Watson

Gambling addiction currently affects 430,000 people in the UK. It devastates lives, families and communities. The social cost of addiction including treatment, welfare, housing and criminal justice is as much as £1.2billion a year. Yet despite the scale of the crisis there is just one NHS funded gambling addiction clinic in the whole of the UK. That’s not right.

Last year we asked the Government how many people were treated or received counselling on the NHS for gambling addiction. It turned out the Government didn’t event collect the figures. The real lack of available data on this subject is indicative of the broad failure of Government to recognise the hidden epidemic of problem gambling for what it is- a public health crisis.

It’s because Labour does recognise this that we’ve launched a review into how gambling addiction is treated as a mental health issue and how it is treated on the NHS. It’s a joint review between our shadow DCMS and health teams because we recognise that we need a joined up approach to achieve solutions. Gambling addiction is a growing public and mental health issue and it should be treated as such by the Government.

Currently GambleAware, the body tasked with commissioning research, education and specialised treatment into gambling addiction is funded by a voluntary industry levy of 0.1%, which means that of the £13.8billion yielded by the gambling industry each year, just £8.75million goes toward treatment of gambling addiction and gambling related harm. That’s not enough.

The only specialised NHS treatment clinic in the entire country is in London. It’s a fantastic facility which we are visiting today, where hardworking NHS staff are at the frontline of the battle against gambling addiction. However we need more facilities like this across the country. Research has shown that problem gambling is linked to social deprivation, with the highest number of betting shops clustered in areas such as Liverpool, Glasgow and Birmingham that have a higher unemployment and proportions of workless households. Areas like this deserve the same kind of facilities that London benefits from.

We need to look at whether current NHS addiction treatment that is not always focussed on those with a gambling addiction, is appropriate to those receiving it.  And we need to consider what additional resources people need in providing effective and specialist treatment across the country – not just in a few areas.

More needs to be done, and the gambling industry has to contribute a greater share of the cost. It can’t be left to the NHS to pick up the increasing tab for this acute mental health crisis. 

Labour’s review goes wider than just the NHS however.  We have to look at how gambling behaviour continues to be normalised in our society; what impact does advertising and sponsorship have on people’s behaviour, how do we protect children, and how do we update our laws to make sure that we can regulate the new forms of gambling online to ensure they do not increase rates of addiction further.

The harm caused by gambling addiction has been left unaddressed by the Government for too long. Labour’s committed to changing that and that’s why we’ll be bringing forward a new gambling act, fit for a new digital age and with the appropriate levels of funding to go with it. That’s the only way we’ll tackle the UK’s hidden epidemic of gambling addiction.

Tom Watson is deputy leader of the Labour Party and shadow digital, culture, media and sport secretary

Jon Ashworth is shadow health and social care secretary