19 July 2019 | OPINION
Compassionate Conservatism is one very powerful strand of Conservatism that the party must adhere to in order to move forward. There has been a recent pledge of £60m by gambling firms to help addicts of gambling due to increased pressures on the sector. There has been widespread criticism of the industry, as before this pledge, the voluntary levy placed by the biggest gambling firms to contribute to treatment for addicted gamblers was a miniscule 0.1%. This levy will go up to 1%, still a tiny fraction of the billions of pounds worth of profit they make. For example, Ladbrokes-Coral Group (the largest betting company) generates a staggering £2.5 billion a year.
Considering these profits, gambling companies should be accountable for the effects that the industry has on people. Health Survey England found, that in 2016, 56% of people in England have gambled previously, thus showing the potential risk and accessibility of the vice. The Conservative Party has so far been promoting responsible gambling to safeguard individuals and communities, and if the party follows this trend, and strengthening their position further, corporate responsibility will be increased and the Party will be sticking firm to its values of responsibility and compassion.
Not only should gambling companies offer a section of their profits to help especially the young and vulnerable, I would call for stricter regulations regarding promotion. Many people have no idea what they’re getting into when they place that seemingly innocent first bet. Many users start through betting on sports, some start through offers of “free” bets which can then spiral quickly, leading to tens of thousands of pounds of debt. Kelly Field recently shared her personal story, explaining that the reason that she gambled was to “escape reality”. For many others, this is also the case.
Having seen the incredibly distressing and damaging effects of gambling addiction, not only for the victims affected, but also for their family and friends, I am calling for much stricter regulations in the industry. Recently, Lord Archer has called on the Tories to adopt tougher stances due to the gambling epidemic. For the Party to stop this in its tracks and help the vulnerable in our society, it must show the country clearly that it can stick to its roots of passing responsible legislation.
Currently, the gambling industry is highly glamorised and commercialised, with constant advertising on TV along with adverts on social media sites such as Instagram, to entice people to make that first bet. Clearly, there is an issue at hand that must be solved. In 2018, the UK saw a 30% increase in calls to helplines regarding gambling addiction, highlighting the seriousness of the issue. The gambling industry also does not have any adequate safeguards or warnings in place. With smoking cigarettes, the consumer is aware of the harm that is caused – it literally states it on the packet. With gambling, nowhere does it say, “you could lose your family and all of your money, and end up in thousands of pounds of debt”.
A recent report in 2017 highlighted that up to 25,000 11-16-year olds are problem gamblers, with many learning betting via computer games and social media. This is clearly a huge warning that younger people are much more likely to be influenced by these gambling companies. Education around gambling is also insufficient. The think tank Demos recently devised a series of lessons for students which encouraged them to weigh up risks, identify manipulative behaviour by gambling companies and learn how to manage possible impulses. In school, we learn about the dangers of addictive substances such as drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, so why do we not learn about addictive behaviour of gambling, which could have equally life-changing ramifications?
Gambling gives the user a false sense of hope, enticing them into betting money they do not have, giving them the idea that they will always be a winner. In 2018, the Gambling Commission highlighted that although we can understand roughly the amount of people affected by the addiction, we cannot understand how many family members, friends, and communities are affected. The industry must take a significant if not total amount of responsibility for safeguarding the consumers, who should be well informed of potential risks and dangers to protect consumer welfare, just as much as any other industry should.
Although a website called Gamcare is in place to help those addicted and their families, many aren’t aware this exists, unless they seek out the help individually. The government should do more to advertise what help can be accessed, whilst simultaneously making sure that victims of the addiction do not have to wait unacceptable waiting times for support with their mental health through counselling. However, these are not adequate precautionary measures, but rather reactionary. The only way this issue can be solved, and any negative consequences curtailed, is through strict regulatory bodies exerting much-needed pressure on the big players in the industry.
The Conservative Party has been involved in cross-party lobbying, and has “made the right decision to cut the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals” – as stated by Nicky Morgan MP. This is a step in the right direction for the Party, showing that compromise can be achieved across party lines if it is for the betterment of communities all around the country. The Party is rightly known for economic management, and this decision will pave the way to showing voters that they can trust the Government not only to be fiscally responsible on a macro-scale, but also to show that this is the Party of inclusion for all in society.