Like many other pieces of work, ABSG’s Progress Report on the first year of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Anna van der Gaag gives her reflections on the some of the key issues covered in the Report.

The ABSG Progress report is best read in conjunction with the Gambling Commission’s Implementation Update (forthcoming) which provides a more detailed overview of all activities being delivered in relation to the National Strategy.

The National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms was launched in April 2019 amidst a mood of shared optimism. Since then, much progress has been made, but there is much more still to be done before any substantial claims can be made about its success. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted how much we as a society can do differently (and better) if there is commitment to a shared goal. It has also exposed inequalities in our society, and highlighted the big changes to wider systems and structures that need to be made for the longer term. There are clear lessons for the response to gambling harms. Critically, reducing harms requires a societal response.

What would this response look like for addressing gambling harms? ABSG’s Progress Report explores two key areas – establishing baseline measures of gambling harm and devising a “Safer Gambling League Table”.

For too long, we have put baseline data in the ‘too difficult’ box. Failure to make progress on the issue of gambling related suicide and attempted suicide is a good example. Without baseline data from coroners, local authorities and health bodies, we cannot move forward on harm reduction at scale. All partners need to work more collaboratively to establish baseline measures on specific harms in order for progress to be measured.

Second, the Commission can take the lead in creating a public ‘Safer Gambling League Table’, containing comparative data from operators on safer gambling metrics. Such a table would help to incentivise, accelerate and standardise progress. Other sectors such as utilities and health have adopted this approach with positive outcomes for safety, quality, and, even, shareholder value. Lessons from other industries suggest the increased transparency that comes from publishing data in this way could have an important role in driving up the volume and quality of actions by operators to reduce harm.

More generally, our review of progress concludes that partners in the Strategy need to do more – and do it together. Government-led initiatives such as mandating inclusion of gambling metrics in the Public Health England Outcomes Frameworks and the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Index will be critical.

The Public Health England Evidence Review, National Institute of Health Research Review, and the National Institute for Clinical Excellence guidelines and agreed care pathways are essential. Without them, we cannot make collective progress on widespread early identification, treatment provision, outcomes measurement and quality assurance.

Promising projects in Manchester and Glasgow have introduced a ‘whole system’ approach, which includes statutory services, the third sector and the voices of people with experience of the harm gambling can do. This approach will add valuable learning about the requirements for effective systemic change and transformation. The third sector’s contribution is essential to advocacy and awareness raising and the provision of prevention and treatment provision. These organisations can do even more in closer partnership with statutory bodies.

Researchers in the UK and further afield are needed to continue to seek answers to the outstanding research questions that require urgent attention. Gambling harm cannot be tackled without different stakeholders taking action together We continue to urge the introduction of a statutory levy to underpin this work and provide sustainable independent funding for all research, prevention and treatment initiatives thereafter.

Finally, there needs to be an acceleration of efforts to involve those with lived experience of gambling related harms. More is happening here than ever before, as the voices of increasing numbers of individuals, groups and forums are being heard, but these efforts also need to result in change.

As we emerge from a pandemic of unimaginable proportions, faced with an unprecedented need to do things better, tackling gambling harm requires a collaborative effort from all of us.

Anna van der Gaag

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