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The Social Impact of Problem Gambling
Published: 16 April 2014 by Elaine Smethurst
Anyone who gets caught up in the downward spiral of problem gambling finds only too soon that the negative impact on his or her life can be devastating. Finding money to gamble is usually the most immediate and obvious issue which brings with it enough problems, but in addition an all consuming compulsion to gamble at any cost leads to difficulties which affect employment, quality of life, family relationships and mental and physical health.
And of course, problem gambling doesn't just affect the individual. It's estimated that for every problem gambler at least 10 other family members, friends and colleagues are also directly affected.The negative impact on wider society is only just beginning to be recognised and an analysis of those problem gamblers in the Gordon Moody Association residential treatment programme during 2012 and 2013 gives the following insights:
The amounts gambled away varied between £5,000 and £3m. Of those gambling in the range £10,000 - £50,000, 59 people claimed to have gambled away a total amount of £1,225,194 with an average amount of £20,766 gambled per person.
Even for those with a job this is a sizeable amount to have to find on top of living expenses and, since the majority were unemployed (65% in 2013, 78% in 2012), all this gambling money had to be funded from other sources - borrowing from family and friends, high street money lenders, pawnshops and loan sharks.
Many Gordon Moody Association residents also report that families remortgage their houses and go into debt themselves in order to try and help sort out the problems of their loved one.
Many problem gamblers get into huge debt and often resort to illegal activities to fund their addiction including stealing from their loved ones and their employers as well as turning to other illegal ways of making money to gamble.
Those who are unable to cope with their debts may choose or be forced into bankruptcy and society then carries the rest of the debt. If court costs are involved this adds to the total financial cost.
Those who are unemployed and unable to work due to their addiction are surviving on state benefits which at the very minimum amount to £57.35 per week (Jobseekers Allowance) and may amount to a great deal more. Assuming six months unemployment and at the basic rate of benefit this is an additional cost of £1,491 per person for 18 - 24s and £1,882 for adults who are 25+.
If a problem gambler turns to crime then police time, court costs, probation services and prison services and other support services need to be factored into the cost to society. The average annual overall cost of a prison place in England and Wales for the financial year 2011-12 was £37,649 (NOMS).
Whilst problem gambling has not until recently been identified officially as a health issue and little or no funding is currently available for treatment from the NHS, health services are often involved as many problem gamblers develop physical and mental health issues as a result of stress and anxiety and the effects of other risk taking behaviours.
The effects on children
Sadly many family relationships breakdown as a result of problem gambling and children are the innocent victims not only because of the emotional distress created within the home but also often the loss of contact with their parent who leaves and the poverty which can result because of the behaviour of the problem gambler.
With this in mind it is clear to see that the issues and costs associated with any problem gambler can extend far beyond the basic financial cost and helping the recovery of one individual will have a much wider positive social impact.
Reverend Gordon Moody
Published: 30 September 2013 by Elaine Smethurst
December 2012 was 100th anniversary of the birth of Gordon Moody, our eponymous founder, who was born on Wednesday 5th December 1912. One of the UK's early social entrepreneurs the Reverend Gordon E. Moody, M.B.E., was a Methodist minister who devoted much of his life to the plight of problem gamblers. His first involvement in the subject was in 1958 when he became Secretary of the British Churches' Council on Gambling where he worked for 20 years and he exerted a strong influence on the shaping of the 1968 Gaming Act. He helped to introduce Gamblers Anonymous to the UK in 1964 (which had first begun in Los Angeles in 1957) and was Honorary Founder-Patron of Gamblers Anonymous until his death in 1994. He was also made an Honorary Life Member of the Society for the Study of Gambling.
The present day Gordon Moody Association was founded as Gordon House in 1971 as a hostel for single, homeless compulsive gamblers. Reverend Moody knew that for many people who had ended up without a roof or a job or a family the first thing necessary to help them on the road to recovery was to offer them somewhere safe and warm to stay. The first Gordon House treatment programme lasted 9 months and some of the residents who have since become volunteers, staff and supporters continue to be thankful that they had the time to turn their lives round. Today our residential treatment is much shorter at 12 weeks, plus a two week residential assessment, making 14 weeks in all and whilst the Gordon Moody Association continues to help people who are homeless as well as those who are unemployed we also support problem gamblers who are still managing to hold down their jobs and some who will have a home to go back to once they have overcome their addiction.
I joined the charity in 2011 and as the relatively new Managing Director I didn't have the opportunity to meet our founder but I have seen an old Panorama programme from the 70's which features him and have spoken to staff and trustees who knew him and I know that his attitude is still the one which informs our activities today. I quote from his obituary in the Independent: - "Moody set himself to learn what gambling was all about - going to the dogs, talking to street bookies, enjoying the Derby. He thus made his first important discovery about gambling: it was not a vice, it was not a crime, it was not a reflection of some psychological disorder. People gambled because they enjoyed it.
It was fun." Of course the downside of gambling as a pastime is that for some it can become an all consuming compulsion which destroys lives and causes family breakdown and can lead to debt, poverty, homelessness and criminality. Like many activists, visionaries and founders he had clear beliefs and determination to succeed in meeting the needs of the people he set out to help. He was passionate and pragmatic in equal measure. The work that we do is needed just as much today as when Reverend Gordon Moody first took action over 40 years ago and there are a great many people who have good reasons for celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth. Long may his memory live on.
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