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What’s an odds-on safe bet to say about gambling? That it makes rich bookies richer, and poor punters poorer? Definitely. That it makes victims of partners, family, friends, and colleagues? Definitely. That effective, confidential help is freely available to gamblers and their victims? Definitely again. CADAS volunteer Steve Russell discovers some of the many agencies working together to make a winning difference in Cumbria and Lancashire.
On the last day of September 2021 Public Health England published its evidence review of gambling-related harms. Just seven weeks later Cumbria County Council responded to the grim findings by running a seminar to encourage and facilitate greater co-operation, knowledge sharing and support for each other amongst the many organisations and individuals in Cumbria and Lancashire already working hard to tackle what is now fast becoming a serious public health issue.
But if the seminar was mainly for interested professionals, the one message they all wanted to get across was simple: if you think you might need help because your own or somebody else’s gambling is blighting your life, you need only ask. Help is available, most often immediately. And it really doesn’t matter whether you’re the gambler or someone affected by their gambling.
“Beacon Counselling Trust (BCT) offers a free confidential support service to anyone at risk of or experiencing gambling-related harm… and there’s no waiting list,” says Neil Platt, Clinical Director at BCT, which works across the North West, partnering with the NHS and agencies such as CADAS.
One man on a mission to help gamblers and their victims is Terry Kilgariff. Formerly a compulsive gambler, he spent decades ruining his own and other people’s lives. But he’s been clean for five years and counting now, and is chairman of Gambling Harms North West Alliance, a group of ex-gamblers and affected others determined to make a positive difference.
“When it comes to gambling, I’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt,” says Terry. But I’m now a community connector, a first point of contact for anyone suffering from gambling harms. And I do mean anyone.”
So just how much is our gambling getting out of our control? Well, if you apply Public Health England’s national gambling review findings to Cumbria’s total population of almost 500,000, this is how things stack up:
- 40% (200,000) gamble… and this does not include the National Lottery
- 4% (22,000) are at risk because of their gambling
- 5% (2,500) are problem gamblers
- 7% ( 35,000) adversely affected by someone else’s gambling.
Worryingly, the betting industry’s retreat from the high street onto the internet has made it easier for children to gamble. Any child with a bank account and a debit card who wants to give gambling a go can simply use their phone, ignoring or circumventing any age restrictions. More and more women are gambling, too. Amongst adult gamblers only 20% are women but their numbers are rising at twice the rate for men. Women also make up 80% of those harmed by someone else’s gambling.
The Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust (LSCFT) is overseeing a programme called Gambling Harms, being run in partnership with the previously mentioned Beacon Counselling Trust. Its aim is to reduce problematic gambling across all of our communities.
The Gambling Harms programme has several initiatives, amongst them:
- Treatment and support for individuals affected by own or another’s gambling
- Training to improve professional intervention and counselling
- Education in schools
- Workplace charter.
The LSCFT was the first such Trust to sign up to the workplace charter, an idea supported by the Unite trade union that recognises gambling as a health and wellbeing issue, and aims to deal fairly but effectively with gamblers in the workforce who need help.
“It’s not perfect yet, and we’ve still got a long way to go, but we’d like to keep driving the Gambling Harms workplace charter forward,” says Kevin O’Hara, LSCFT Partnership and Development Manager.
There are many other initiatives to tackle the scourge of problem gambling in our communities, amongst them one aimed at helping Lancashire’s South Asian gamblers to beat the habit. In Cumbria, Copeland Borough Council has a social prescribing programme that aims to help people with all sorts of mental health and wellbeing issues by taking advantage of the power of the community to offer non-medical support, involvement and guidance. It’s already helping people suffering bereavement, debt and other problems, and now it’s being used to help gambling victims.
If you or someone you know needs help because of gambling-related harm, but you don’t know where to turn, probably the easiest way to access it is via a free call to the National Gambling Helpline operated by GamCare on 0808 8020 133. Or you can visit their website at https://www.gamcare.org.uk. They provide a terrific signposting service and will be able to facilitate a local referral to the most appropriate treatment pathway for you. All you have to do is make that call and ask.