Gambling Advertising - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 2:45 pm ar 25 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 2:45, 25 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey. His final suggestion was a pertinent and encouraging one. Like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, for securing this debate and for all the work that he has done over many years on this issue. I declare my position as a member of Peers for Gambling Reform.

I shall begin, for a change, with some positive good news—this picks up something mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Foster—which is the ban on various forms of advertising that has come into place in Sheffield following a decision by the council in March. This is a great demonstration that campaigning works and can make a difference. I know some of the people who have been campaigning for that in Sheffield over a significant period. It is also a demonstration of the public desire to have healthier environments and healthy societies, which is what indeed this public health measure does. It is a ban, within the limits of the power of Sheffield City Council, applying to authority-owned hoardings. As well as gambling and betting products it covers short-term loans, alcoholic drinks, fossil-fuel products, some breast and infant milk formulas and petrol, diesel and hybrid plug-in vehicles. We can see the focus there on health. An important point to make is that, as the director of public health in Sheffield, Greg Fell, said, while this measure is not going to break our gambling harm epidemic—and it is important that the public health sector sees that the epidemic is there—it sets an important direction of travel.

I have a direct question for the Minister. Local councils and local communities have been expressing a desire to see these gambling adverts and other harmful adverts out of their communities. If the Government will not act centrally—although I would prefer it if they did—will they allow local communities to make the decision for themselves, not just on the sites that they control but on all the advertising sites within their communities?

It is important to note how much this advertising is focused in poorer, disadvantaged communities. In Sheffield, the group Adfree Cities found that 60% of the advertisements were in the poorest areas of the city while just 2% of the adverts were in the most affluent locations. More than four in five outdoor billboard adverts around the country are focused in the poorest areas of England and Wales. These impact negatively on people’s lives and on the environment in those communities.

Like other noble Lords, I commend the Library, as usual, on its excellent briefing. All the evidence is that, along with the deluge of gambling advertising that we are all being exposed to, we are seeing a great rise in problem gambling. Under the new methodology from the Gambling Commission, we are talking about a 2.5% problem gambler rate—that is more than 1 million people. This is an addiction problem and a public health crisis. The GamCare helpline had more than 50,000 calls and online chats in 2023, up 24% on the previous year.

Other noble Lords have referred to the situation of football. Again, there is a strong, fast-rising grass-roots campaign saying, “We want something to be done about this”. As far as I have been able to discover, AFC Wimbledon was the last club to join the campaign The Big Step, calling for an end to all gambling advertising in football. That campaign is part of Gambling with Lives, the charity set up by families bereaved by gambling-related suicide. I do not think anyone has said this figure yet, but I think it needs to be recorded: the Government’s own estimate is that there are 496 suicides related to problem gambling every year. And I have one figure showing how much people are suffering: in the first weekend of the Premier League last August, fans were subjected to 11,000 gambling adverts.

To put this all in a broader context, we have an epidemic of problem advertising. Figures out this morning from the WHO show that the UK has the worst rate of child alcohol abuse worldwide. We have a real problem where advertising is creating an unhealthy society. We need a much healthier society, which is something the Government themselves often acknowledge. Gambling is part of a much broader problem. There is no right to advertise. We have right to say as a society that we do not want to force unhealthy products on people and communities.