An important report came out at the end of 2016. This was from the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), an influential and progressive British thinktank. They have calculated what they think are the excess costs to Government associated with people having problems with gambling. These include the costs associated with mental health care, hospitalisation, providing jobseekers allowances, loss of tax income due to unemployment, and costs associated with homelessness and incarceration. Their best estimate of the total of those costs is somewhere between £260 million and £1.16 billion per year for Britain as a whole.
Because they were careful in making their estimates, the differences between minimum and maximum estimates are obviously wide. Furthermore, they were unable to take into account what most of us would consider the largest ‘costs’ of having a gambling problem – those that are more personal and less tangible, such as effects on one’s state of mind, quite apart from any healthcare that is sought on account of it, and effects on family and other relationships. Nor were they able to take into account the harmful effects experienced by affected others such as partners, parents, children and other family members, co-workers and close friends.
But even so, their figures are frightening. Perhaps even more important than their figures are some of the conclusions that they draw in their report. For example, they call for a national Government strategy to tackle problem gambling and reduce gambling-related harm, involving not only the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, but also other relevant Government departments. Problem gambling, they say, should be seen as a public health issue. That is all music to our ears because we have long argued for a public health perspective and for the Department of Health to start to take an interest in the subject which they have failed to do to date. They go further by calling for Government to ensure that systems are in place locally to tackle problem gambling, including improving training of frontline professionals and regular screening for gambling problems.
The IPPR report also highlights the findings that problem gambling, as well as being more common amongst men and amongst younger adults, is more common in those on lower incomes and amongst black and ethnic minority groups. As they say, problem gambling is helping to entrench and exacerbate socioeconomic disadvantage.