DCMS Minister Damian Collins has confirmed that the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) did not inform the department of its assessment of Public Health England (PHE)’s cost reports.
Andrew Bridgen, MP for North West Leicestershire, asked the Minister during a parliamentary questions session to clarify ‘on what date’ the UKGC had informed the DCMS that the findings of PHE cost estimate were ‘unreliable’.
Collins, the DCMS’ Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy, responded to the MP’s question by stating that his department has ‘regular discussions’ with the Commissions on a range of gambling regulation areas, including ‘evidence on gambling’ as part of the now 18 months long Gambling Act review.
However, he asserted that: “The Commission has given the Department no formal advice or notification relating to the cost estimates in Public Health England’s evidence review on gambling related harm.
“Protecting people from gambling harms remains a priority for the government and the Gambling Commission, and we will be led by the best evidence to ensure the right protections are in place.”
Published just over a year ago, the PHE review estimated the total annual economic costs of harmful gambling at £1.27bn, with the social impact of suicide, the single largest cost at £620m, based on an average of 409 people per year taking their own lives due to problem gambling.
Related to this were costs of depression linked to problem gambling, which stood at £335m based on research into more than 250,000 mental health patients, whilst gambling related to drug and alcohol misuse was estimated to cost £6m per year.
Lastly, criminal activity as a result of or related to problem gambling was evaluated at £163m, based on 3,799 prisoners who had been incarcerated for offences attributed to their gambling habits.
The report was based on 2018 statistics showing that 24.5m people in England gambled – or 54% of the adult population, 40% when the National Lottery is excluded – with 0.5% of players reaching the problematic threshold.
Since the PHE published its findings, UKGC data has shown that problem gambling rates have continued to fall, declining from the 0.4% recorded in June 2020-June 2021 to 0.2% recorded in June 2021-June 2022.
Collins statement indicates that although the UKGC and DCMS have maintained regular communication over the past two years, particularly due to the ongoing Gambling Act review, the Commission had not informed the department of its view that the PHE findings were unreliable.
THe UKGC had made such an assessment, however, which was made available under the Freedom of Information Act. This sentiment was also shared by Dan Waugh of Regulus Partners in his regular column for SBC , who also criticised the PHE report for being ‘in some parts thoroughly dishonest’.
Waugh also further noted Chris Philp – the former undersecretary responsible for oversight of the Gambling Act who was one of several Ministers to step down and called for Boris Johnson’s resignation back in June – was ‘heavily influenced’ by the PHE study during his drafting of the White Paper.
However, in the aftermath of Johnson’s resignation, the subsequent lengthy Conservative leadership contest and Liz Truss’ assumption of the premiership, it is now unclear whether a Gambling Act review White Paper – influenced by the PHE’s findings or not – will be published at all.