The harms associated with gambling cost at least £1.27bn in England alone in 2019-20, according to Public Health England’s (PHE) Gambling harms: evidence review. The analysis provides an updated cost of homelessness associated with harmful gambling, at £62.8m, and is the first to include an estimate of the economic cost of gambling-related suicide, at £619.2m. The review constitutes ‘the most comprehensive estimate of the economic burden of gambling on society to date’, says PHE.
The UK is one of the world’s biggest gambling markets, generating profits of more than £14bn last year. PHE estimates that around 0.5 per cent of the population reach the threshold to be considered ‘problem gamblers’, with almost 4 per cent classified as ‘at-risk’. As with drug and alcohol-related harm, the people most vulnerable to gambling related harms are concentrated in areas of higher deprivation, such as the North of England, with a ‘clear link’ between problem gambling and higher levels of alcohol consumption. Three quarters of people drinking more than 50 units a week participated in gambling, compared to 35 per cent of non-drinkers.
Men were more than four times more likely to be gambling at ‘levels of elevated risk of harm’, while people with mental health issues were twice as likely. People with gambling problems were also ‘at least’ twice as likely to die as a result of suicide than the general population, with one study putting the risk at almost 20 times higher.
Gambling should be considered a public health issue, the review states, as it is ‘associated with harms to individuals, their families, close associates and wider society’, and calls for an approach that focuses on ‘prevention, early intervention and treatment’. The new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) would be working closely with other departments to develop a workplan to address knowledge gaps, improve data collection, and ‘deliver an effective response to gambling-related harm’, it says.
‘There is so much more at stake from gambling than just losing money – from the toll on mental health to the impact on those around the gambler,’ said PHE’s director of alcohol, drugs, tobacco and justice, Rosanna O’Connor. ‘The evidence is clear – harmful gambling is a public health issue and needs addressing on many fronts, with an emphasis on preventing these harms from occurring as well as with help readily accessible for those directly and indirectly affected by the wide ranging and long-lasting negative impacts of gambling.’
The review’s call for a public health approach has been welcomed by GambleAware. ‘The prevention of gambling harms is a major challenge for promoting population health and to achieve this, a whole-system approach is needed when developing both prevention and treatment services for gambling harms in Great Britain,’ said the charity’s prevention director, Dr Jane Rigbye. ‘We welcome the utilisation of GambleAware commissioned research which has contributed key evidence about the prevalence of gambling harms, including the number of people who are affected by another person’s gambling. GambleAware looks forward to collaborating with DHSC, OHID and those in the NHS, local authorities, other public health agencies and those with lived experience in helping to prevent and treat gambling related harms.’