THE Archbishop of Canterbury has castigated the Government for delaying the introduction of stricter curbs on addictive betting machines.
The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced in his Budget speech on Monday that new and much lower limits on the amounts that could be gambled on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) would not come into force until a year’s time.
During a visit to Chatham, a town that includes some of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Kent, Archbishop Welby said that the decision was reprehensible.
“It doesn’t disappoint me: it appals me,” he told BBC Radio Kent.
“The Bishop of St Albans was one of the key leaders of that campaign, and I call for that to be implemented rapidly. This is one of the easiest ways into gambling addiction, and it needs to end.”
The Government announced plans to cut the maximum FOBT stake from £100 to £2 in May, after a campaign by church figures, charities, and politicians (News, 17 May).
Archbishop Welby, who was making a two-day pastoral visit to the diocese of Rochester, said that society could no longer ignore problem gambling.
“Gambling addiction has gone up and up and up in this country. And we’re seeing more and more people who are needing support in that. . . The issues around those are ones we need to face up to.”
Responding to the Budget on behalf of the Lords Spiritual, the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, said they, too, were “deeply disappointed” in the delay, but were pleased to see a new digital-services tax to be imposed on technology giants such as Amazon, Google and Facebook, which have been accused of not paying their fair share of tax in the UK (and elsewhere).
“We welcome the Chancellor’s initial steps to placing the UK in the vanguard through a digital-services tax while working for a global agreement to tackle this challenge,” Bishop Urquhart said. He also praised Mr Hammond for reversing planned cuts in the work allowances in the Universal Credit benefits scheme, as well as the increase in funding to support claimants as they move on to the new system.
Church-run foodbanks where the scheme had been rolled out had received more and more applicants, and seen “rising debt, destitution, and hunger. . . Bishops have long supported the principle of Universal Credit but made clear that it is essential that it is adequately funded.”
Thirty-two bishops added their names this month to a petition organised by the End Hunger UK campaign which demands that the Government “Fix Universal Credit” (News, 19 October).
The Children’s Society’s chief executive, Matthew Reed, said that much more needed to be done to address the “serious” issues with Universal Credit. “Without further support for families affected by delayed payments, including new benefit claimants, many parents and children will continue to be left in a desperate situation, having to resort to foodbanks in some cases,” he said.
Mr Hammond also announced that £84 million would be spent on children’s social care, but this, too, Mr Reed dismissed as grossly inadequate. “While it is a start, this cash is just a drop in the ocean compared to the estimated £3-billion shortfall facing children’s services by 2025.
“This funding gap means councils are increasingly unable to provide vital early support for families and children to prevent problems arising and getting worse.”
Christian Aid called the new digital tax “unambitious”. The charity’s economic-justice lead, Toby Quantrill, said that it was expected to bring in only £400 million, although internet giants made as much as £50 billion in profits.
“In reality, this is tantamount to an admission that these companies are too powerful to tax effectively,” he said. “Systemic tax-dodging by multinational companies continues to drain the UK and developing counties of the tax revenue they are due, a cost which can be counted in lives as well as unrepaired potholes.
“If they continue to shift profits and avoid their responsibilities, governments must bring these giant global companies into line.”
Also announced in the Budget was a review of wedding-venue laws, potentially removing the restrictions on weddings outdoors and in temporary structures. Currently, the ceremony must be held in a licensed building with a solid, permanent roof.
A Treasury spokesman said that the move could “help the law keep pace with modern Britain” and make it cheaper and simpler for couples to marry. An increase in the choice of venues is expected to put further pressure on the Church’s ability to retain its share of weddings.
One man who had wanted an outdoor ceremony ten years ago told the BBC that he had been obliged to marry at a register office first, which meant that the outdoor ceremony “was a bit of a sham”. “This new law is very, very overdue in a society that is not all religious,” he said.