Public Health England estimates cost of gambling harm at £1.27bn

| By Daniel O'Boyle
A new report from Public Health England (PHE), an agency of the UK government Department of Health, has estimated the cost of gambling harm to English society to be £1.27bn.
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The report was intended to better understand the extent to which gambling is a “public health issue” and the extent of gambling-related harm in England.

To do this, it asked six questions. The first concerned prevalence of gambling and gambling-related harm across various demographics, as well as associated harm caused to non-gamblers. It then looked to find the risk factors for gambling-related harm and the social and economic burdens that it causes.

The report also sought to find out stakeholder views on gambling-related harm, and finally asked about the impact of novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic on gambling-related harm.

In attempting to measure the cost to society of gambling harm, PHE said that its 95% confidence intervals for the cost were £841m on the lower end and £2.12bn on the upper end, with a most likely estimate of £1.27bn. It said that this figure may be an underestimate because of a lack of available evidence or difficulty pricing certain factors.

PHE added that  just over half of the estimated cost – £647.2m – was a direct cost to the UK government. 

Of this total, £342.2m were due to mental and physical health costs, due to the use of government resources for depression, suicide, mental health and drug use.

Criminal activity, meanwhile, was the cause for £162.5m in government costs, based on the fact that 3,799 people were in prison for gambling-related offenses at the time the report was written.

The cost of employment and education harms was priced at £79.5m.

Lastly among costs to the government, the cost of financial harms related to gambling came to £62.8m. Most of these related to homelessness, with 21,438 homeless applications linked to problem gambling in England.

The remaining £619.2m in costs were “intangible” costs to society, all related to impacts of gambling upon mental and physical health.

The report also examined the differences in views of gambling harm between stakeholders involved in the gambling industry and those who may have had experience of gambling harm or worked to treat or prevent it.

Those involved with the industry – described as “commercial stakeholders” – were more likely to say that the causes of gambling harm are complex and may be related to comorbidities or tendency toward addiction. Non-commercial stakeholders were more likely to say that gambing products or environments were the main reasons for harm.

Commercial stakeholders were also more likely to say the best solutions to gambling harm required individual interventions and treatment, while non-commercial stakeholders were more likely to say that changes to entire systems were required.

In addition, non-commercial stakeholders were likely to say that the harms of gambling are more widespread than non-commercial stakeholders.

The report comes as the UK government undertakes its review of the 2005 Gambling Act. Last week, Chris Philp was named as the new minister overseeing the review, as part of a cabinet reshuffle.

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