THE Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, has accused the gambling industry of “running off with eye-watering profits” while taxpayers foot the multi-million-pound bill for dealing with the consequences of problem gambling.
He was responding to the publication, on Thursday of last week, of Public Health England’s (PHE’s) review of evidence for gambling-related harms, which found that they was directly costing the Government £647.2 million a year.
Dr Smith asked: “At a time when the NHS is under serious pressure, why is the public purse picking up the bill for the consequences of problem gambling? Reforming the gambling sector would reduce the burden on the taxpayer and allow money to be redirected to fixing those regional health inequalities by better funding treatment, research, and education.”
The review found that people living in the north-east and north-west of England were significantly more at risk of problem gambling than people in the south, and might already be experiencing greater health inequalities. This, he said, “shows that levelling up is about more than simply pumping money into left-behind regions, but about reforming those sectors, like gambling, that disproportionately affect deprived communities.
“The Government has not been blind to these regional inequalities, which is why it established the three Northern Gambling Service clinics in Manchester, Leeds, and Sunderland in 2019. Despite the amazing jobs these clinics do, the lack of industry regulation is constantly working against them.”
Dr Smith was a member of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Gambling Industry, and is a vice-chair of Peers for Gambling Reform, the largest cross-party group in the House of Lords, committed to implementing the recommendations from the House of Lords Select Committee report Gambling Harm: Time for action (News, 10 July 2020).
The PHE review includes the most comprehensive estimate of the economic burden of gambling on society to date, suggesting that, in England alone, it cost at least £1.27 billion in the year to 2020. It includes the first estimate of the economic cost of suicide (£619.2 million), and provides an updated cost of homelessness associated with harmful gambling (£62.8 million). Harms included in the estimate range from financial, such as bankruptcy and employment issues, to family issues and health harms, such as suicide.
Read the PHE review here.