Harmful Gambling- a community issue, a workplace issue, a trade union issue

Over the last 15 years the gambling industry has changed beyond recognition.

Harmful Gambling

Since the passing of the 2005 Gambling Act the sector has grown at an alarming pace. Excluding the National Lottery, the latest figures on gambling yield (amount retained by gambling operators after payment of winnings but before deduction of operating costs) stands at over £14 billion- a 60% increase since 2010.

One of the key elements driving this growth has been technology. Access to gambling has never been easier, initially through the expansion of betting shops and improvements in technology.

Your mobile phone is now a bookmakers, a bingo hall and casino in your pocket! Now you can bet literally on anything, at any time of the day and at any place your device can access the internet. You cannot watch any television or other forms of media without being bombarded by advertising from gambling operators. Alongside the apparent success of the industry has been the worrying and often devastating impact of harmful gambling.

The consequential harm from these activities can affect anyone. It can happen at any age, to any gender and to people from any ethnic background. The latest research is alarming. New data from YouGov, reported by The Guardian, puts the rate of problem/harmful gambling at 2.78% - amounting to 1.4 million people, with a further 3.6 million people negatively impacted by someone else’s gambling.

What is less well understood is the societal cost of gambling harm – family break-ups, mental health problems, criminal activity to finance excessive gambling and the cost to employers. Tragically, the link between harmful gambling and suicide is clear with heart-breaking stories in the media and solid evidence proving suicide more prevalent with gamblers than users of drugs and alcohol.

Learn with Unite, through support from the Gambling Commission, union learning fund (ULF), and working with treatment providers such as Beacon Counselling Trust began raising awareness of the issue within trade union networks in 2016. Several awareness raising events culminated in the launch of the harmful gambling workplace charter in July 2019.

Working closely with colleagues in the TUC, a framework has been developed to help change behaviours and workplace culture. This sets out a seven-step strategy providing a safe space for members/staff where they can access information, support and be signposted to treatment. This will provide assistance to both gamblers and those affected by gambling related harm.

Learning is key to success. Online resources have been developed through Wranx and Litmos Heroes. Going forward, Learn with Unite will train a network of union reps/trade union colleagues through the Bet You Can Help (first aid for those affected by gambling related harm) programme to raise awareness with employers and promote the charter. Supported by unions, several large employers have already committed and we expect other organisations to follow suit.

Trade unions and employers can work together to enhance their health and well-being offer. This will provide an opportunity to be better prepared for the developing impact of gambling related harm which will most certainly increase post lock down.


Further information on the harmful gambling workplace charter is available from:

Keith Lewis - Learn with Unite Learning Manager (Construction)

E: [email protected]

M: 07990584721

Contact the Beacon Counselling Trust for North West based free and confidential support (9am-5pm Monday to Friday 0151 226 0696 ) or the National Gambling 24hour helpline 0808 8020 133

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Keith Lewis

Keith Lewis is Unite Construction ULF Project Manager at Unite the Union.