Oxford report places spotlight on gambling’s ‘poor social outcomes’

Undertaking its review of the 2005 Gambling Act, the government has been presented with a further report underlining the potential financial consequences and societal risks of problem gambling and addiction on the UK public.

The report, undertaken by the University of Oxford’s Department of Social Policy and Intervention, was developed to research ‘the association between gambling and financial social and health outcomes’, utilising financial data.

The research was led by Oxford’s Dr Naomi Muggleton,  who was granted access to ‘anonymous data’ provided by a UK retail bank, aggregated for up to 6.5 million individuals over a period of up to seven years.

Oxford’s report has been cited as providing the largest sample size researching gambling’s effects on the financial outcomes of individuals across all levels of UK society.  

“Gambling is persistent over time, growing over the sample period, and has higher negative associations among the heaviest gamblers,” the report stated. “Our findings inform the debate over the relationship between gambling and life experiences across the population.” 

The research’s headline findings suggest that ‘the top 1% of gamblers surveyed spent 58% of their income gambling’, whilst ‘high levels of gambling are associated with a 37% increase in mortality’.

On societal consequences, Oxford’s report identified that high-to-medium levels of gambling carried negative outcomes on individuals such as financial risks, crime, unemployment and social isolation. 

“It’s unclear whether gambling causes negative outcomes, or whether already vulnerable people are disproportionately targeted by bookmakers, for example through advertising and locating betting shops in impoverished neighbourhoods,” Muggleton observed. “Either of these relationships is worrying and could have implications for public health policies.”

Despite the report’s reliance upon deep financial analysis and monitoring gambling individuals’ spend and outcomes – criticism has been laid at the methodologies used by its authors.

The research drew upon bank data provided by Lloyds TSB in order to be as expansive as possible. However, it failed to draw a distinction between transactions and losses. Nonetheless, it outlined correlations between gambling habits and financial problems. 

Furthermore, with the report coming at a time when consumer affordability is increasingly key to social responsibility, it also detailed that increased gambling is linked to myriad poor financial habits. 

These include ‘a higher rate of using an unplanned bank overdraft, missing a credit card, loan or mortgage repayment,  and  taking  a  payday  loan’. 

According to the report, a  10%  point increase in absolute gambling spend is linked with a spike in payday loan uptake by 51.5%, whilst the possibility of missing a mortgage payment grows by 97.5%.

“Gambling is associated with higher rates of future unemployment and physical disability and, at the highest levels, with substantially increased mortality,” the report concluded. 

Despite its disputed research, Oxford’s report will likely carry impetus with the government undertaking its review of the UK gambling sector. 

Post-Brexit, PM Boris Johnson’s senior cabinet has underscored that the UK requires a ‘levelling-up agenda’ in which the government will prioritise social mobility and tackling poor societal outcomes. 

Last week, Kate Lampard (CBE) chair of GambleAware, remarked to industry and healthcare professionals that inequality remained the biggest obstacle to at-risk individuals seeking treatment. 

Prior to the gambling review being sanctioned, Lord Grade who led the House of Lords Select Committee on the ‘social and economic harms of gambling’, stated that sector analysis had been undermined by a lack of research on gambling’s societal outcomes.   

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