SPEECH: Shadow DCMS Minister Jeff Smith MP – Ygam Parliamentary Reception 2023

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Shadow DCMS Minister delivered this keynote speech on 17 January 2023 at Ygam’s Parliamentary Reception.

Good afternoon and thank you for that kind introduction, Jane.

It is great to be here this afternoon speaking at Ygam’s Parliamentary Reception on behalf of Labour’s DCMS team.

My colleague, Alex Davies-Jones MP covers gambling in her Shadow Ministerial brief, but sadly she is in the Chamber as we speak responding to the Government’s Online Safety Bill.

I know she would very much like to be here today and sends her apologies for her absence, but I am also very happy to be here filling in as Labour’s Shadow Sport, Tourism, Heritage and Music Minister.

I will start by thanking both Ygam and the former Gambling Minister, Damian Collins, for sponsoring today’s reception at what is a critical time for gambling policy more widely.

We all know that reform around gambling is long overdue and the Government have been dragging their feet for too long.

Indeed many forms of gambling are a pastime that lots of people enjoy.

They are a source of employment and economic activity for communities in towns and cities across the country.

Nobody sensible wants to send gambling to the underground or the black market, but we have to recognise that it can also be a highly addictive activity that damages families and communities.

Central to tackling the issue is education and awareness, which is why it is fantastic to have Ygam here in Parliament today to raise awareness of their efforts to inform, educate, safeguard and build digital resilience among young and vulnerable people, to help them make informed decisions regarding gambling and gaming.

As we know, the current legislation in place came into force in 2005, long before many of today’s technologies were in place.

The Gambling Act is the basis for regulation of gambling in the UK, yet it has not been updated since it was passed.

Today’s reception is a reminder that young people often have access to gambling in ways that older generations may not consider or understand – this can range from in-app game purchases to loot-boxes which are becoming increasingly common.

That legislation is completely unfit in meeting the demands of the digital age, and it must urgently be updated particularly if it is to capture the potential harm for young people.

As we also know, aside from the cost to individuals, the Government’s own gambling-related harms evidence review showed that the cost to the Government is, at a minimum, at least £340 million each year.

Despite that, it has now been two years since the Government committed to publishing a gambling White Paper.

Meanwhile, someone with gambling-related problems dies by suicide every day.

That is why we need action, not more words, from the Government and of course education is an important factor to consider as we seek to prevent problem gambling, and gambling harm from developing too.

That is why it is a pleasure to be here this afternoon to support Ygam’s work in raising awareness of the dangers of problem gambling.

It has been brilliant to hear about their new strategy which will build on their vital resources and education programmes aimed at young and vulnerable people.

As with a huge range of social and public health issues, it can often feel as though the focus and funding is focused on outcomes rather than prevention.

And that is particularly evident in the discourse around gambling and its associated harms.

But really, when it comes to gambling policy, we all need to be carefully considering the determinants of harm as we seek to fully understand gambling harms more widely.

Ygam’s own research has suggested that an individual’s exposure to gambling risk is often not within their control, and so robust regulation and effective education are both important factors to consider.

We already know there are close links to between problem gambling and general deprivation.

Research from the 2021 Annual GB Treatment Survey means we can now see the clear discrepancies between gambling prevalence and the reported demand for and usage of treatment and support.

This really can paint a bleak picture and that is why Ygam’s resources, workshops and education programmes have an important role to play in safeguarding future generations.

This brings me to my final point this afternoon, which is around the sustainability of important charities like Ygam who are stepping in where Government legislation has failed to protect.

It is absolutely vital that the White Paper gives a clear steer on funding for those in the sector, and we must also recognise that funding should not be limited to treatment provision alone.

We need to be focused on preventing harm as well as tackling it when it has been able to develop.

That is where charities like Ygam really come into their own, and part of the Government’s responsibilities in this White Paper is to address the concerns around the sustainability of their services and provisions.

Of course we can all recognise the legislative challenges that the Government is facing at the moment, and the cost of crisis and rising energy prices are at the forefront of all of our minds.

But really all of us involved in the gambling sector from industry to charities to those facing harm have waited long enough.

Over the coming weeks, we will continue to push the Minister and his team in Government to prioritise their approach to preventing and tackling gambling harm, because as I think we can all appreciate, the White Paper even once published is only the beginning.

I know my colleague Alex Davies-Jones MP and I will continue to meet with industry, charities, stakeholders and most importantly people impacted by gambling harm and can assure you all Labour stand ready to work with the Government to do the right thing to tackle problem gambling at its root.

ENDS

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