The harms caused by gambling laden a huge economic burden on England and have significant links with alcohol and suicide, according to a new report.
In 2019, the Department of Health and Social Care commissioned Public Health England to do a review of the harm caused by gambling. The review includes the most comprehensive estimate of the economic burden on society, revealing that it cost at least £1.27 billion in 2019 to 2020 in England alone. This includes the first estimate of the economic cost of suicide (£619.2 million) and the cost of homelessness associated with harmful gambling (£62.8 million).
The review shows that people in areas of higher deprivation are more at risk of being harmed by gambling, and may already be experiencing greater health inequalities. Also, only 35.4 per cent of non-drinkers participated in gambling, compared to 74.4 per cent of those consuming over 50 units of alcohol (or 16 pints of beer) per week.
When it comes to suicide, the report found that gambling can increase the likelihood of some people thinking about, attempting or dying from suicide and that people who had mental health issues were twice as likely to participate in harmful gambling than people with none. Evidence suggests that people with gambling problems are at least twice as likely to die from suicide and that men are 4.2 times more likely than women to be gambling at levels of elevated risk of harm.
PHE says harmful gambling should be considered a public health issue because of the risks to individuals, families and wider society, and that the focus should be on prevention, early intervention and treatment.
The new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) will work with government departments, including the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to address the knowledge gaps, improve data collection and deliver an effective response.
The Bishop of St Alban's, Rt Rev Dr Alan Smith, who has long campaigned on this issue, said:
"The fact that those from the North East and North West of England are significantly more at risk of problem gambling compared to the South shows that levelling up is about more than simply pumping money into left-behind regions but about reforming those sectors like gambling that disproportionately affect deprived communities.
"Reforming the gambling sector would reduce the burden on the taxpayer and allow money to be re-directed to fixing those regional health inequalities by better funding treatment, research and education."
Gambling Minister and MP for Croydon South Chris Philp said: "We are gathering all the necessary evidence to reset the balance between giving adults the freedom to choose how they gamble safely, with the right protections for those at risk of harm.
"We are determined to protect vulnerable people from exploitation by aggressive advertising or unfair practices that entrench problem gambling."