On 2nd July 2019 the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport repeated a Government Statement about industry support for those affected by problem gambling. The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a follow-up question:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: I welcome this announcement today, but I notice from a press release from the companies that they see it as a health issue:
“The key priority will be to quadruple the number of those accessing treatment from 2.5% to 10%”.
After four years, 90% of those with gambling addiction problems will still be unable to access help. Surely that cannot be acceptable.
We know from Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS in England, that it looks like it will cost the NHS between £260 million and £1.2 billion a year. This is costing the general taxpayer a huge amount, when the industry, as I have said in the past, is privatising the profits and nationalising the costs. The key issue here is that we have to treat this as a public health issue. I declare my interest as a member of the Select Committee on the Social and Economic Impact of the Gambling Industry, which is just beginning to do its work. We need to take a fresh look at this. In particular, we have to legislate.
All these companies are competing with one another, which is one of the reasons why we have this explosion in advertising; even the “whistle to whistle” ban is not going to stop the logos on shirts and the wraparound adverts that are blazoned all the time. We need to legislate to put these companies on an equal footing and protect the vulnerable, especially the young.
Lord Ashton of Hyde: The right reverend Prelate, who has been vociferous in his views on this—I have been on the receiving end for several years—has done good work, but he is overexaggerating slightly. On the increase in the proportion of problem gamblers receiving treatment, we will never reach 100%. They have to agree to be part of it. We have significantly increased the resources available to do it. We had one gambling clinic in the east; another has just opened, specialising in children. We have announced plans to open 14, and today’s announcement is in addition to that. In every other sphere of potentially harmful industries, such as smoking and alcohol, the industry pays taxes and the treatment of people affected by those industries is paid for out of general taxation. The gambling industry pays £3 billion in gambling tax plus income tax and NI. In addition to that, the top five companies have agreed to pay a 1% levy on that to fund treatment. They are producing a large amount of money. Because it will be transparent, we will monitor what needs to be done, but this is a dramatic increase in resources in a very short time and it will make a significant difference.