The Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM) has warned that the drastic change to student life this year could increase the risk of students experiencing gaming and gambling-related harm at university.
Research commissioned by the charity and undertaken by Red Brick Research in 2019 found that 264,000 students are at some risk of gambling-related harm in the UK, while around 88,000 may already be problem gamblers. To address this immediate concern, YGAM has launched a new ground-breaking Student Hub website (www.students.ygam.org) to raise awareness of the issue and to help safeguard students at university.
Created with input from current students, the new website features bespoke advice and guidance to help students make the most out of university while avoiding the risks of gaming and gambling-related harm. The website features interactive elements along with lived-experience case studies to further highlight the real issues of gambling and gaming harms on university campuses.
Pete Woodward, Head of Delivery for University and Student Engagement at YGAM, said: “Student life has changed dramatically this year due to Covid-19, and this could have a detrimental impact on student wellbeing and increase the risks associated with gaming and gambling at university. Our Student Hub is the first of its kind; supporting students to enjoy a university experience free from gaming and gambling-related harm. We will use this online portal to gather insights and share findings with our partners at other universities and students’ unions.”
The National Union of Students (NUS) has endorsed the resources, with a spokesperson saying: “From previous research conducted by NUS, we know that tens of thousands of students each year are using their loans to gamble in a bid to top up their funds, with many ending up in debt as much as £5,000 or more. With the Covid-19 crisis, even more students are and will be struggling financially. Charities such as YGAM and their new Student Hub website are vital for students. It is crucial to provide advice on how to make the most of university life while avoiding the risks.”
Research published by The Lancet in July suggests that the mental health of young people aged 18-24 has deteriorated this year, likely due to the ongoing pandemic. This is a concerning development, as YGAM’s research on the topic suggests that students often turn to gambling and gaming when they are depressed, as a desire to feel more ‘in control’ of their day-to-day activities. One third of students said their gambling habits have had a negative effect on their wellbeing.
Bray Ash, now 27, experienced gambling harms first-hand when he was in higher education. He says: “It was at university when it properly started – that was when I first had a lot of money – student finance, support from my parents, things like that. I would go to a casino after a night out, or the bookies, but mostly I’d gamble online. And as time was going on it was just escalating more and more. It took over my life – I wasn’t going into uni, I was just sitting at home gambling. I then went to a second university, and I ended up gambling away my student loan in the first 24 hours.”
“I think it would have been massively helpful to have something like YGAM and its resources on campus around that time. You can’t expect universities to provide everything. You’re better off to have external organisations like YGAM, which explicitly focuses on the issue, particularly now, as it seems like gambling has become even more popular among students.”
To support the Student Hub initiative and other university projects, YGAM has also announced the appointment of part-time student positions to drive their programme and to ensure the voice of students is consistently used in their work. YGAM will also be training staff at 25 different universities across the UK, enabling an unprecedented number of young people to benefit from the additional safeguarding this will allow.
Karen Rowlingson, Professor of Social Policy at the University of Birmingham said: “Students are under huge pressures, more so than ever this year. Gambling and gaming problems can sometimes be a consequence of those pressures and sometimes a further cause. YGAM’s new student hub provides an incredibly important resource to help students avoid the risks of gaming and gambling-related harm at this time.”
The Student Hub will sit alongside other tools such as GAMSTOP and Safer Gambling Week which takes place in November. GAMSTOP (www.gamstop.co.uk) is a free, independent, self-exclusion tool which enables people to exclude from all UK-based online gambling operators for a period of six months, twelve months, or five years.