ABSG demands faster results from GB gambling harms strategy

26 June 2020

The Advisory Board for Safer Gambling (ABSG) has published its first progress report on the current National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms, in which it urges stakeholders to speed up progress towards achieving the goals it sets out.

The National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms was launched by the Gambling Commission in April 2019. It sets out a three-year plan for a cross-industry, collaborative approach to reducing gambling harms based on a two-sided strategy of prevention and education, then treatment and support.

The progress report notes that the number of stakeholders taking an active role in reducing gambling harms has grown markedly, which it describes as "a significant step forward". There has been some progress in both priority areas of prevention and treatment, it added.

It also describes the government’s manifesto commitment to a review of the Gambling Act during this parliament as a key indicator of progress, and celebrates the “series of changes to its licencing requirements on credit card use, age verification checks, customer interaction requirements and self-exclusion measures” brought in during 2020.

However, it also makes clear the need to accelerate action on the strategy, and sets out priority recommendations for year two including establishing a safer gambling league table and key baseline metrics from which to set targets and measure progress.

A key requirement in setting this up may be increased input from those who have suffered directly from gambling related harm. The report calls for greater contributions from those with lived experience of gambling harm, and recognises that such voices have found increasing exposure throughout 2019 and 2020, as the strategy was published at a time of “rapidly growing interest” in harm reduction. The Gambling Commission announced a step towards this last week, when it revealed it is working with an interim 'experts by experience' group, made up of those that have suffered ill effects of gambling.

Another cornerstone of the year two strategy is a call for greater cross-sector collaboration, as the report argues that “the NHS should lead the creation of a national treatment strategy working in partnership with the third sector“. It recognises progress in this area, explaining that “The NHS in England began to take a more proactive stance through its Long Term Plan and made a commitment to opening 14 new treatment clinics.”

Arrangements for commissioning research, particularly on the measurement of gambling harms, were also considered an area for improvement. The need for sustainable, independent funding is cited as a possible barrier to progress, and the report calls for a statutory levy to guarantee this.

The certainty of funding could be impacted by the novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, which also features heavily in the report. It details the importance of measuring the pandemic’s impact on existing harm reduction projects, possible delays to progress and the shift of public attention away from gambling related harms.

The most urgent area for improvement identified in the report is the relationship between gambling related harm and suicide. It commends the work of suicide prevention charity, Gambling with Lives, in drawing attention to the issue.

However, it recognises that “there has been no commissioning of the psychological autopsy study, no confirmation on inclusion of gambling related suicide measures in the forthcoming Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey for 2021, no inclusion of gambling disorder in coronial codes, and no progress on steps to ensure awareness raising and training on gambling related suicides amongst coroners is mandated. This failure to make progress on an issue that takes young lives is unacceptable and needs to be urgently addressed.”

Gambling with Lives welcomed the report in a statement issued today, agreeing with its core recommendations. The statement underlines the need for the Gambling Commission to accelerate its work on gambling related suicide and calls for progress on wider issues such as game design and stake reduction.

Charles Ritchie, Co-founder of Gambling with Lives said: “We very much welcome today’s report and support its recommendations. The Gambling Commission must immediately take steps to progress its work on the links between gambling and suicide, the lives of young people are at risk.”

“The Commission must also accelerate its work on treatment and the commissioning of research along with a statutory levy. Taking account of those who have experience of the devastating harm gambling can cause, is a critical part of this. I would also urge the ABSG to look at the wider areas of risk that the Gambling Commission must progress such as game design and the risks of exposing young people to gambling advertising”