Thursday, June 13, 2024

Gambling Minister Stuart Andrew speaks at the Gambling with Lives Parliamentary Forum

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Good afternoon. I am delighted to join you here today. I want to begin by expressing my heartfelt gratitude to Liz and Charles for extending an invitation to speak at this remarkable event. But also for their tireless dedication to supporting families up and down the country, and raising awareness of the issue of gambling-related harms in our society.  

I have had gambling as part of my ministerial portfolio, alongside sport and civil society, for just over a year. When I took on the gambling brief, it became clear to me very quickly that the work and story of Gambling with Lives has touched the lives of so many – in this room and beyond. Events like today are testament to Liz and Charles, but also to the significant strides we have made in recent years on the issue of gambling-related harms.

As you all know, last year we published our gambling white paper, the most comprehensive review of gambling laws in 15 years. Across a 16 week call for evidence, 16000 submissions, navigating the long road to publication and now moving quickly to implement our measures, the government’s commitment to strengthening protections against gambling-related harm is the clearest it’s ever been. 

I recognise that some wanted us to go further in certain areas, and indeed others wanted us to be less restrictive. I’ve been a government Minister in a range of areas since 2018, and gambling is certainly one of the most challenging to get right. 

But we can all agree that action is needed. I am therefore pleased that we were finally able to publish a substantial set of proposals which I am confident will have a material impact on reducing gambling harm in our society.

We and the Gambling Commission have delivered on our commitment to publish consultations on key reforms since the White Paper, and we remain very much on track to deliver the main measures of our review by the summer. 

I am sure many of you will have seen that we recently confirmed our decision to introduce new stake limits for online slot games. 

I was pleased to be joined by Liz and Charles on the BBC sofas on the day of our announcement, where we had an important discussion on the need to further prevent gambling-related harm. 

We have always been clear that there is no single reform which will work on its own, and gambling harm is not just about individuals. It has to be seen as an interaction between the person, the products, the providers and the place in which people gamble. 

That is why we have taken an evidence-led approach to implement a package of reforms targeted at different levels. 

This includes action on products such as online slots. But also broader protections such as financial risk checks and further strengthening restrictions on advertising. Effective and innovative collaboration to get the right mix of interventions for the population as a whole and those with specific needs is required to tackle gambling harm.

Central to that ambition is of course the decision to introduce the statutory levy which represents a step change for the sector. The levy is not simply about reforming the funding mechanism. It is also an opportunity to improve and expand the projects and services in place to further understand, tackle and treat gambling harms.

I know all of you are particularly invested in the levy consultation, and ensuring that we introduce a system that builds an holistic approach to investment, commissioning and evaluation.

In making this crucial transition, we want to consider the best available evidence and information to get it right. It is important to me that a wide range of views, especially those with lived experience, inform our approach to implementing this landmark reform in an effective, evidence-led and proportionate way. 

Thank you to the Gambling with Lives team and to all those in the room who responded to the consultation.

I am invested in the meaningful opportunities the levy presents. I recognise that funding is not the only requirement for an equitable and effective system but increased investment is crucial. For the first time, the levy will ensure ringfenced, trusted and sustainable funding for research to fill gaps in the evidence on gambling and gambling harm, and inform policy and regulation. 

We’ve always said that where evidence emerges that we need to go further, in advertising for example, we would look carefully at it and this remains the case.

This ringfenced investment will also support work to further tackle the sources of gambling harm through vital support for treatment and prevention.

Based on the latest available estimates, fewer than 5% of those experiencing harmful gambling currently receive treatment, which is significantly lower than for alcohol issues, where around 18% of dependent drinkers are in treatment. 

We have made significant steps in the treatment space, with 13 of the planned 15 NHS specialist gambling treatment clinics currently in operation, across all regions of England. 

Of course, not all those experiencing harm need specialist treatment and the majority of those seeking support do so outside the NHS. The levy will allow the development of an integrated and comprehensive treatment system across Great Britain in the coming years to improve referral pathways between NHS and third sector provided services. I want to build a world-leading system so that there is ‘no wrong door’ for those experiencing gambling harm, and that people can access treatment, when and where they need it. 

I also recognise that gambling-related harm is not something that we can treat our way out of. We have all heard the phrase “prevention is better than cure”. We are working hard to make that idea a reality in the gambling sector.

Still too often we see and hear about the devastating impacts of harmful gambling. The Gambling Commission’s important work on the Gambling Survey for Great Britain has presented a higher quality picture of gambling harm than has existed previously. 

While the Survey is still in development and being refined to ensure it is methodologically robust, I think it represents a significant step forward. 

The indication from the GSGB that 2.5% of adults are gambling with negative consequences, with even greater numbers at risk, shows there is clearly still more to do to tackle gambling harms. For this, prevention is the key. 

The suite of regulatory protections we are implementing are aimed at preventing harm before it occurs or earlier in the journey. However, the statutory levy represents a doubling of efforts in this area. Targeted investment in coordinated prevention activity on the ground, at local, regional and national level is an unprecedented move. 

Prevention is about creating a society which has a clear awareness of gambling-related harms, an understanding of the support available for those in need, and trust in the services themselves. 

It is also about more than the individual who may be experiencing harm and ensuring there is an understanding that their loved ones and wider communities have somewhere to turn to for support. It is also about building capacity on the frontlines of care so that gambling-related harms and the routes to effective support are better understood, knocking down the barriers which stigma can bring. These are some of our aims.

As we speak, my Department is working hard to get the levy in place, manage a smooth transition and see that increased investment flowing as soon as possible.

I want to close by thanking Liz and Charles again for their tireless efforts and all of you in the room for keeping this important conversation going. 

I am committed to this agenda and have full confidence in the significant steps forward we are taking as a country to reduce gambling harms.

Thank you for your time today.

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