2023 saw some developments in Scotland which indicate both action and policy formation to challenge gambling related harms.Overall it is realistic to say that this has been slow but authentic.
Action has been seen in third sector organisations. Citizens Advice Scotland, for example, continue to provide support and signposting to individuals facing harms. The Scottish Gambling Education Network has to some extent become a locus which connects many interested individuals and organisations as well as continuing its own work, frequently providing workshops in collaboration with others. Organisations across Scotland, from Dumfries to Orkney, have run initiatives for diverse communities connected with gambling. GambleAware and the RCA Trust remain the primary sources for treatment and tailored support, and both continue wider work with partners. One sector gathering momentum this year has been Simon Community Scotland which has a homelessness and gambling harms worker, and which has been very active in working with other organisations.
Our own work has been restricted to Glasgow (with the exception of an event in Inverclyde and proposed events in Argyll and Bute). A more detailed description of this is in a post on our site Glasgow City Gambling Harms. It is also worth checking out the summary reports of work in Glasgow from 2007. Essentially, we have been invited to show our film One Last Spin and engage audiences in discussion. Venues have included prison, community organisations, conferences, and most recently city council depots.
We are pleased to be involved in a workshop with medical students in January. Awareness training for students and doctors is important. As it is for many sectors. One important sector is existing substance recovery communities (gambling harms often accompany harms from substances) so we are delighted to have done a little work with Glasgow North West Recovery Communities. This brief overview is perhaps indicative of just some of the work that does or can go on in Scotland.
Glasgow is also at the forefront of slowly developing frameworks and policies that can inform Scotland. This work, led by Scotland Public Health and Glasgow City Council and multi-agencies has proceeded for more than a decade. The 2021 Glasgow Gambling Summit led to more focused work. (Again, the summary here provides some context). Most recently we have met Councillor Laura Doherty who leads the council’s work on gambling harms. She arranged a screening of our film with councillors. In November she spoke at our event in Easterhouse and spoke of some difficulties: one relates to the legal powers of councils; another to the common long lead-in times between policy and implementation. This reflects national difficulties: the Scottish government has limited devolved powers of gambling regulation/
At a conference to discuss the Gambling Act White Paper, in her introductory remarks Georgina Charlton, who leads Scotland Reducing Gambling Harm at the Alliance for Health and Social Care, also alluded to the slow rate of developments. The conference looked forward to a proportion of the proposed gambling industry levy coming to Scotland but some felt the amount would be spread very thin. Westminster Inverclyde MP Ronnie Cowan Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group) is another who is sceptical about significant benefits accruing from the levy. He’s spoken at two of our events and others we’ve attended. His main focus is upon industry tactics – advertising, sponsorhsip, marketing and micro-marketing. This does raise a contentious issue. Is it possible that the agenda of much current work relegates the latter in prevention importance? A rhetorical question .
Connected to the wider picture, one may call for effective evaluation of such education and treatment/support services currently provided. The effeciveness of Gamblers Anonymous or SMART Recovery does need including in such a consideration with structured evidence methodology superceding anecdotes. Also contentious is the fact that GambleAware is currently funded by voluntary industry contributions. It is contentious not because we say so but because many involved say so. It should also be said in fairness to Gambling Aware that they have pressed for a compulsory levy, and also in fairness they have reached out to work with other organisations both third sector and statutory.
South of the border the NHS operates 15 gambling clinics plus one for children. There is no sign that NHS Scotland has such a move on the agenda, nor, as far as we know, much in the way of GP training. GP awareness and skills are particularly important as they are often the first port of call. Ideally, with knowledge of signposting to services such as CAB and the support of LINKS workers with their knowledge and networks, GPs would be alert to treating associated physical and mental health issues.
In Scotland there appear to be very few, if any, grassroots organisations led by people with lived experience of gambling harms. This contrasts sharply with the situation south of the border where many such organisations flourish. What we do see in Scotland are very active substance recovery communities, and one national organisation which works at grassroots and transmitting lived experience voices to government. It may be that one way of seeding lived experience gambling harms organisations is throuh such communities (and, as said, gambling harms will be inherent in such communities).
Finally, to emphasise the state of development at Scottish government level and NHS Scotland we can quite Jenni Minto, Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health in answer to a parliamentary question about NHS Scotland’s support for people facing gambling related harm (November 29):
People with gambling addiction in Scotland can get support through a range of services including those that are signposted on the NHS Inform website, primary care services and, where appropriate, mental health services in secondary care. We have established a gambling-related harms working group with Public Health Scotland to consider what needs to be prioritised in gambling harms research, prevention and treatment.
While it is encouraging to hear that a working group has been set up at government level, our impression is that it will take some time yet to establish the state of play that was recognised many years ago in reports from Scotland Public Health. Our own experience of meeting a different minister (on a Zoom event) is that she was happy to admit a lack of knowledge and was there to listen. While we would be pleased to be corrected, our understanding is that structured government knowledge and routes to policy are very limited at present, and probably diffused among ministerial responsibilities. There was, at the end of 2022, a briefing paper from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre about gambling harm as a public health challenge. (It does provide a useful concise overview). It states that apart from a mention in the government’s suicide prevention strategy, there are “no Scottish Government policies, strategies or plans” relating to gambling harms.
Yet a brief look backwards finds a 2014 Public Health report urging action in the face of gambling harms. It is not clear whether MSP Minto’s reply (above) is intended to imply that current treatment provision is adequate. What cannot be questioned is that the Scottish government has been advised for many earss about the need to take action in addressing gambling harms, including their prevention.
Glasgow University hosts the Gambling Research Group which includes Professor Gerda Reith (who appears in our film). Through the work of the academics there Glasgow is a world centre of research (and very open to community involvement). Following the 2005 Gambling Act Professor Reith prepared a paper for the Scottish Executive drawing attention specifically to the potential for expnasion of casinos but generally urging governmental attention to rising gambling related harms. That was published in 2006.