A report from Patricia Gibson, MP for North Ayrshire and Arran
While it appears that the UK Parliament is struggling to get anything done due to a pre-occupation with Brexit, MPs continue to address important issues affecting their communities, unrelated to our membership of the European Union.
Last week I participated in a debate about the difficult subject of gambling-related harm, an issue of real concern here in North Ayrshire where, according to the latest figures, £32 million was gambled away between 2008 and 2016. While many people gamble responsibly and come to no harm, gambling addiction can impact on the health and wellbeing of addicts, their families, and their communities.
Gambling addiction destroys lives and there are an estimated 430,000 gambling addicts in the UK, as well as a further two million at risk and is linked to between 4% and 11% of all suicides.
The problem is not helped by the stigma surrounding gambling addiction, which has multiple causes. The condition cuts across mental and physical health, financial and domestic problems and difficulties at work or at home.
I believe we must recognise that gambling is a public health matter. People with this addiction are embedded in our communities, so effective action to reduce harm must not only protect individuals, but also mitigate the risk to families and the wider community.
At Westminster, I raised the need to tackle the numerous gambling opportunities available, such as online or in one of the many betting shops on our high streets. While local authorities have used planning laws to hamper the further expansion of high street bookmakers, a particular issue in many deprived areas, online gambling introduces further hazards and there must be greater regulation to ensure proper affordability checks and spending limits are enforced. We also need to look at advertising, with those vulnerable to addiction or already living with addiction being regularly exposed to the lure of gambling; their next bet often only a click away.
I am also keen to see a mandatory levy on the gambling industry to finance more research, education and treatment around gambling, due to concerns about the growing levels of harm associated with it. I will continue to raise this point at every opportunity. However, as we saw with the hard won fight to restrict sakes to £2 when using fixed odds betting terminals, the gambling industry can exert enormous pressure on some MPs has deep pockets, and is resistant to increased regulation.
The social benefits of addressing this problem are reduced health, welfare, homelessness, employment and criminal justice costs. The benefits to the families of those with such an addiction are beyond price.
If the UK Government is unwilling to tackle this issue, it must devolve gambling regulation to the Scottish Parliament so it has the power to act.
I strongly urge anyone dealing with gambling problems in North Ayrshire to seek support by contacting Gamblers Anonymous Scotland, who meet at Ardrossan Civic Centre on Mondays between 7:30pm and 9:30pm. They can also be contacted on 0370 050 8881 or at: www.gascotland.org.