UK cost of living crisis leading people to gambling, says charity | National lottery

People are turning to gambling to help them with the cost of living crisis – from trying to win money to pay bills to using betting shops as warm banks, a gambling charity has said.

The charity GamCare said that while this was likely to exacerbate financial stresses, research found four in 10 (42%) problem gamblers believed that gambling would improve their financial situation in the next year compared with just 7% of UK adults.

The YouGov survey of 4,202 adults commissioned by the charity also found that one in six people gambling at harmful levels had used a warm bank in the past 12 months compared with 5% of the general population, while half of parents who are problem gamblers were going without food or clean clothes to support children, compared with 20% of parents overall.

GamCare said January 2023 was its highest ever month for call volumes, with advisers regularly hearing reports of how the rising cost of living is affecting callers. That included people who have been spending time in betting shops to keep warm and people on universal credit and disability benefits gambling to make extra money to cover their bills.

Anna Hemmings, chief executive officer at GamCare, said the challenges of the cost of living crisis were “particularly acute” for gambling addicts.

“At GamCare, we know first-hand that gambling isn’t a way to ease money worries, as well as how important it is to address the financial picture to support someone’s longer-term recovery from harm,” she said, adding that the charity is launching a new financial advice service.

The survey also showed that problem gamblers were seven times more likely than the rest of the UK population to say they would gamble more in the next 12 months as a result of the cost of living crisis (42% and 6%).

Kieren Smith, a former gambling addict, recalled how gambling felt like a tempting solution when he was struggling to afford rent and bills. “The financial difficulties added another justification for gambling. It was out of desperation – I saw gambling as the only opportunity to provide a short-term financial fix, which is a very scary place to be. You’re almost running back to your abuser for help, but also it offers this amazing opportunity where one big win can sort it all out.”

He said that mindset made it easier to keep chasing a big win rather than face up to the reality of debts already accrued and start the work of paying them back. “The danger is you become more and more isolated, more in debt. Ultimately you start to lose people and find yourself in a real state, and potentially suicidal.”

Heather Wardle, a researcher in gambling harms at the University of Glasgow, and chair of the Lancet Public Health commission on gambling, said GamCare’s survey was the first she had seen to look at gambling during the cost of living crisis, with “thought-provoking, if, sadly, not unexpected” results.

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“During Covid, the industry was implored not to exploit people during an exceptionally vulnerable time. An assessment is needed of what measures the industry is being compelled to take to ensure that people are not harmed or exploited by its products and practices during the cost of living crisis,” she said.

The most recent data release from the Gambling Commission showed that although gambling levels remained steady in December 2022, there were significant increases in people buying national lottery tickets, including those at moderate risk of gambling harm.

This was echoed in a study of gambling prevalence in Iceland after the financial crash, which showed that lottery sales surged although other forms of gambling remained steady or declined.

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