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Gambling: Early Mortality

Volume 811: debated on Tuesday 20 April 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the research by Dr Naomi Muggleton linking gambling and early mortality, published in Nature Human Behaviour on 4 February, what plans they have to transfer responsibility for gambling policy to the Department of Health and Social Care.

My Lords, responsibility for gambling is shared across departments. DCMS leads on industry regulation, which is key to harm prevention. DHSC leads on gambling as a health issue and on treatment, and we work closely together. We are pleased to see more research being done and we are considering the findings carefully. Dr Muggleton’s research shows a correlation between higher gambling spend and lower well-being but does not look at causes.

I thank the Minister for her response. As the recent research suggests, gambling-related harm and problem gambling produce a negative result across a whole variety of indicators, including health. Despite this, the Government continue to hold on to the idea that the industry is a net contributor to the Treasury, without taking into account the huge other costs being incurred. Will the Government consider undertaking a comprehensive study of the direct and associated costs, such as health, incarcerations, homelessness and social welfare, all caused by gambling harm, which materially affect the Treasury’s receipts?

The right reverend Prelate raises important points. He will be aware that Public Health England is doing research at the moment, looking at how to reduce gambling harms and how to recoup the costs to society, which I hope will go some way to reassuring him.

My Lords, the excellent Select Committee report may not have endorsed the current split in policy leadership but it made it very clear that DCMS had a lot to do. In that context, can the Minister confirm that the online harms Bill will deal with underage gambling and issues raised by the question put by the right reverend Prelate, such as an association between gambling and early mortality—and if not, why not?

The main focus for addressing the issues that the noble Lord rightly raises is through our review of the Gambling Act. The online safety Bill, as he is aware, will focus on user-generated content in particular.

My Lords, with reference to my interests as set out in the register, and bearing in mind the good advice that prevention is always better than cure, would my noble friend tell the House how many schools have included teaching students about the risks of potential gambling harm in PSHE classes or, indeed, whether schools are being actively encouraged to incorporate that important subject?

The Department for Education does not record how schools teach their pupils about gambling, but young people will be taught about gambling risks as part of the statutory health education curriculum, including the accumulation of debt. Training modules have been developed for teachers, including a specific section on gambling.

My Lords, only 3% of problem gamblers currently receive treatment. The planned new gambling clinics will help, but far more is needed. Given that one gambling company owner earned nearly £0.5 billion last year, much of it from problem gamblers, should not all gambling companies pay more to fund treatment through a compulsory levy?

As I mentioned in response to an earlier question, that is one of the issues that will be considered as part of the review of the Gambling Act. I can update the House that there has been an increased donation this year to GambleAware from the industry of £19 million, up from £10 million last year, and next year’s donation is forecast to be £26 million.

Does my noble friend agree that Dr Muggleton stressed that the report could not say whether the association between gambling and any negative effect, including increased mortality, was causal? As a result, does she agree that in government DCMS should continue to focus on the most vulnerable through advertising and the location of betting shops in impoverished neighbourhoods rather than make policies drawn on direct causal links which the research does not conclude?

I can agree with my noble friend’s first statement. I would just expand on his suggestion about the role of DCMS. The department is very clear that we have an important role in protecting vulnerable people who may be harmed by gambling in particular, and we work across government to achieve that.

My Lords, I cannot support the change in departmental responsibility suggested in the right reverend Prelate’s Question, but this is clearly a matter that raises the responsibilities of a wide range of government departments. What are the Government’s arrangements for enhancing departmental co-operation in addressing this crucial issue? Will they, for example, establish a bespoke departmental committee to co-ordinate action?

I am not aware of specific plans such as those the noble Lord suggests, but I can reassure the House that co-operation between departments on this important matter is strong and effective.

Does the Minister agree with the comment of the Lancet Public Health last January, that:

“Gambling disorders often remain undiagnosed and untreated”,

and its call for a scientific inquiry into this

“urgent, neglected, understudied, and worsening public health predicament”?

If not, how would she describe it? Are the Government, as part of their review of gambling, considering the practicalities of a statutory duty of care for gambling companies, similar to the one we expect to be in the online safety Bill?

The noble Lord raises an interesting point. It is significant, in relation to disorders such as gambling problems remaining hidden, that the Gambling Commission has recently appointed a panel of individuals with lived experience to advise it formally on player safety. We hope this means that currently hidden issues will become more visible, and we will be able to address them.

My Lords, despite the Government’s cross-departmental insistence that treatment for gambling problems will be prioritised, the scope of the call for evidence in the review of the Gambling Act 2005 made no mention of a public health approach. Such an approach would allow the treatment of gambling problems to be delivered in the same way as drug and alcohol addictions are treated. The Minister is aware of this. What action does she intend to take to rectify it?

I recognise the noble Baroness’s point about the specific language around public health, but if we look at what constitutes a public health approach, we see that it is inherent in the work being carried out. In particular, the Gambling Commission, as part of its role, looks broadly at the products, the players and the environment in which they operate.

The vast majority of people who follow horseracing and football have no gambling problems whatever. Addiction manifests itself in many different ways. Does the Minister agree that it is the role of the Department of Health and Social Care to get into the precise causation that creates addictive behaviour, in whatever form it manifests itself?

The noble Lord is right. That is why the Department of Health and Social Care is leading on the addiction strategy and the addiction treatment strategy for the Government, and why the review of the Act seeks to strike the right balance between consumer freedom and preventing harm.

My Lords, nobody doubts my noble friend’s commitment, but in view of the need to protect, in particular, vulnerable children from gambling addiction, can she say when the Government last convened a meeting with the Department for Education, the Department of Health and Social Care and the Treasury to consider these issues, which are clearly of great importance?

I am not aware of the exact date to give to my noble friend, but I can reassure him that the issue that raised the most contributions in response to our call for evidence was the protection of children and young people.