Bishop of St Albans calls for compulsory levy on gambling firms to fund research and treatment of gambling related harm

On 27th November 2018 the Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a question he had tabled to Goverment about gambling related harm. His follow up question and those of other Members is reproduced below:

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the sufficiency of current industry contributions to efforts to reduce gambling-related harm.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Ashton of Hyde) (Con): My Lords, protecting vulnerable people from harm is central to gambling regulation. Operators must prevent underage gambling and train staff to intervene if a person is in difficulty. They must provide information on accessing help. The Gambling Commission also requires a financial contribution to research, education and treatment. Our review set out measures to strengthen protections across the industry, as well as a system for funding support. Donations this year are well on track to meet targets.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: I thank the Minister for his reply and am glad that the Government will increase the remote gaming duty next year. But in a year in which Simon Stevens pointed out that problem gambling is costing the NHS between £260 million and £1.2 billion a year, and the gambling industry made a total return of £13.9 billion, is it not time that we moved away from the voluntary levy to a compulsory levy which significantly contributes to research and treatment?

Lord Ashton of Hyde: My Lords, there are a number of issues there. First, the figures quoted by the right reverend Prelate apply to the total cost of gambling, not just to the NHS. Of course, he did not mention the other side of the equation, which is the £2.86 billion in gambling taxes, apart from national insurance, corporation and income tax, which the gambling industry raises to help pay for the NHS. We recognise the need for reliable evidence on the wider impact of gambling-related harm, so work is under way to bill this. On the funding itself, for treatment, it is our priority to strengthen the voluntary system and build our understanding of what is needed. We have always said that we want to see operators step up, and I am glad to say that donations are on track to meet GambleAware’s targets. If the actions to improve the voluntary system do not bring results, we will consider other options, but we do not consider it necessary at this stage.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con): My Lords, when I was responsible for gaming in the Home Office back in 1995, the rule was that firms could not do anything to stimulate demand. Casinos had a 48-hour membership and gambling companies were not even allowed to advertise in Yellow Pages. Given the disastrous consequences of this deregulation, with ads appearing on daytime television and in sport, is it not time that we reverted to when we had a workable and efficient policy?

Lord Ashton of Hyde: My Lords, for most people—the vast majority of people—gambling is not a problem; problem gambling is less than 1%. But I take my noble friend’s point that, for a small number of people, gambling can be a problem, and advertising could contribute to it. There is no reliable evidence on the extent to which it contributes, but we are putting tough new guidance into advertising to protect vulnerable people, including children. A large advertising public service campaign is being put out to promote responsible gambling. But advertising is one of the things we are considering, so I shall take my noble friend’s point on board.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab): My Lords, on previous occasions when we have looked at gambling and fixed-odds betting terminals were considered, there was a perceptible measure of support for the rather humble measures we proposed, which have now been accepted. I suspect that the mandatory rather than the voluntary levy would command equal support from all Benches. Although I am repeating the Question asked by the right reverend Prelate, I ask again: how long do we have to wait for studies in an industry that generates an enormous amount of money—so much ​so that one person can have a pay rise of £45 million? It would not be onerous to ask for a mandatory rather than a voluntary levy, which I am sure is the next step that as a House we should responsibly be advocating.

Lord Ashton of Hyde: The question is why you would want to introduce a mandatory levy. At the moment, GambleAware gets more than the money it asks for. It says it needs £10 million a year, and it is getting an extra £5 million from penalty payments, so it is getting more than it asks for. As I said, if we find that there is a need for more money and the voluntary system is not producing it, we will consider other options.

Lord Foster of Bath (LD): My Lords, I think the House will be somewhat surprised that the noble Lord is suggesting that more money is not needed. There are 430,000 problem gamblers in this country, and currently only 2% of them are getting help. Does the Minister not find it odd that we have a compulsory horse-based levy that brings in £70 million to help horses, and we have a voluntary levy that brings in £10 million to help people?

Lord Ashton of Hyde: It is a mistake to say that the racing levy is there to help horses, although a small proportion of it is for veterinary reasons. It is there to help the racing industry and the people who work in it. By the way, a lot of people complain about that levy too. We have asked the industry to contribute, voluntarily, to research, education and treatment. We have said that if it does not produce enough we will look at other options. Just because the industry has a large gross gambling yield—not profit but yield, which is different and before payment of expenses—that does not mean that we should, for the sake of it, increase the levy and have a compulsory one.

via Parliament.uk