Public Health England estimates that gambling harm costs English society £1.27bn

A new report from Public Health England (PHE), an agency of the UK’s government’s Department of Health, has estimated the cost of gambling-related harms to English society to be £1.27bn.

The report comes as the UK government is currently reviewing the 2005 Gambling Act in an effort to update the laws.

PHE’s report

The PHE report was carried out in an effort to better understand the extent to which gambling is a “public health issue” in England and the extent of gambling-related harm in England.

The report did this by asking six questions. The first question revolved around the prevalence of gambling and gambling-related harm across various demographics and associated harms caused for non-gamblers.

It then looked at the risk factors for gambling-related harm and the social and economic burdens that gambling can cause.

On top of this, the report aimed to find out stakeholder views on gambling-related harm and went on to ask about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on gambling-related harms.

Findings from the report

In an attempt to measure the cost to society of gambling harm, PHE said its 95% confidence intervals for the cost gambling has on society were £841m on the lower end of the scale compared to £2.12bn on the higher end. Based on this, PHE said the total cost was estimated to be £1.27bn.

However, the report noted that this figure could be an underestimate due to the lack of available evidence or difficulty in pricing certain factors.

The report added that £647.2m, or just over half of the estimated cost, was a direct cost to the UK government.

Of this £647.2m, an estimated £342.2m came down to costs associated with mental and physical health due to the use of the government’s resources for depression, suicide, mental health, and drug use.

Meanwhile, criminal activity accounted for £162.5m in government costs, based on the fact that 3,799 people were in prison for gambling-related offenses when the report was penned.

The cost of employment and education harms was also priced at £79.5m.

The last cost to the government was the cost of financial harms related to gambling came to £62.8m. Most of this came down to homelessness, with 21,438 homeless applications were linked to problem gambling in England.

The remaining £619.2m in costs were classed as “intangible” costs to society, which all related to the impact of gambling on mental and physical health.

Other findings

The review also found that gender and poor mental health were the strongest indicators of gambling-related harm. The report found that men were 4.2 times more likely than women to be gambling at levels of elevated risk of harm.

On top of this, people identified as having some mental health issues were twice as likely to participate in harmful gambling than people with no mental health issues.

Additionally, those who indicated they had a mental health condition were 2.4 times more likely to be a gambler experiencing gambling-related harms.

The evidence suggests that harmful gambling should be considered a public health issue because it is associated with harms to individuals, their families, close associates and wider society with an approach that focuses on prevention, early intervention and treatment.

Rosanna O’Connor, Director of Alcohol, Drugs, Tobacco and Justice at PHE, said: “There is so much more at stake from gambling than just losing money – from the toll on mental health to the impact on those around the gambler.

“The evidence is clear – harmful gambling is a public health issue and needs addressing on many fronts, with an emphasis on preventing these harms from occurring as well as with help readily accessible for those directly and indirectly affected by the wide ranging and long lasting negative impacts of gambling.”

Gambling Minister Chris Philp said: “We are gathering all the necessary evidence to reset the balance between giving adults the freedom to choose how they gamble safely, with the right protections for those at risk of harm.

“We are determined to protect vulnerable people from exploitation by aggressive advertising or unfair practices that entrench problem gambling.”