A new report has been presented to the UK government, which details the costs of problem gambling and addiction in the UK.
The report, written by the University of Oxford’s Department of Social Policy and Intervention, comes at the same time that the government is undertaking a review of the 2005 Gambling Act.
Dr Naomi Muggleton led the report, which involved her team analysing anonymised data provided by a UK retail bank. The data sample is reported to include up to 6.5 million individuals over a period of up to seven years. It has been heralded as the largest sample size research into gambling’s effects on the financial outcomes for individuals across all levels of UK society.
The report underlines both the deep rooted nature of gambling in the UK and the risks for those who are heavy gamblers. It found that the top 1% of gamblers spent 58% of their income on gambling, and that high levels of gambling are linked to a 37% increase in mortality.
It also found that high-to-medium levels of gambling was associated with negative outcomes for individuals such as financial risks, crime, unemployment and social isolation, although Muggleton stressed that it was not clear whether these outcomes were directly related:
“It’s unclear whether gambling causes negative outcomes, or whether already vulnerable people are disproportionately targeted by bookmakers, for example through advertising and locating betting shops in impoverished neighbourhoods. Either of these relationships is worrying and could have implications for public health policies.”
But the report has been criticised in some quarters over its methods. The research did not distinguish between wins and losses on bank statements, although it did clearly underline the correlation between gambling habits and financial problems. These include more frequent usage of unplanned overdrafts, the missing of repayments and the utilisation of payday loans.
The report claims that a 10% increase in absolute gambling spend is associated with a spike in payday loan uptake by 51.5%, with the possibility of missing a mortgage payment going up by 97.5%. It also states that gambling is associated with higher rates of future unemployment along with physical disability and even substantially increased mortality.
The report is likely to form part of the ongoing review of the 2005 Act, and in particular the extent to which gambling and wider social issues interact. Last week, Kate Lampard, who chairs charity GambleAware, said that inequality remained the biggest obstacle for gamblers in seeking treatment. And last year, the leader of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Social and Economic Harms of Gambling’ Lord Grade said that there was a lack of research on gambling’s social outcomes.