January 12, 2024

Talk Money Week

Katy Wilson

For this year’s Talk Money Week, we want to raise awareness of the relationship between gambling harms and financial wellbeing, with the aim of encouraging people to talk openly about this to someone who they think might be in need of support.

There are several ways that gambling can impact someone’s financial wellbeing, some more obvious than others. They include:

  • Over-indebtedness
  • Arrears and problem debt
  • Repossession of goods or home
  • Low financial resilience
  • Reduced access to financial services
  • Financial exclusion  
  • Heightened risk of being a victim of fraud or scams
  • Financial abuse of others

As with many of the gambling harms, financial wellbeing is often under-reported in part due to shame, embarrassment and associated stigma. StepChange analysed data of client disclosures of gambling-related vulnerability and saw that only 0.43% of disclosures were reported over the phone, compared with 2.82% of disclosures being reported online. This aligns with the conception that gambling is a hidden addiction.  

People in problem debt are three times as likely to have thought about suicide, and 3% of people in problem debt have attempted suicide. GamCare operate the National Gambling Helpline and, in data they collated covering 2022/2023, they reported that 76% of their service users who gamble to harmful levels face financial difficulties, and 60% are in debt. But as already mentioned, the stigma around problem debt means that people often suffer alone.  

Whilst other people may not always be aware of the extent of someone’s suffering, this doesn’t necessarily stop them from being victims of financial abuse and becoming affected others. GamCare’s data mentioned that 47% of affected others also face financial difficulties. This could mean that they are also left with limited options other than to repay the debt or even apply for insolvency themselves.  

Statistics are always insightful, but as a charity that is founded on lived experience, Betknowmore UK’s Experts by Experience all have their own very personal stories to tell, which are even more impactful as a result of their authenticity. Here is a brief excerpt from Mark’s story that he has kindly consented to share:

“It starts by missing out on treats, being unable to go out with family and friends and buying things for yourself that disappear...it escalates so you cannot pay the bills and therefore start to look at credit card extensions and loans, before proceeding to payday loans... you are not even interested in paying off the debts as long as you get money to gamble with. Usually, it will impact family as people will borrow from their loved ones and lie about what it was for... I was no different. Some people at this stage will open up and try to get help, but others may turn to crime to fund their gambling. I went on to commit crime and at this point there was no coming back... I went from earning six figures to being bankrupt and homeless overnight. I lived in a beaten-up car for three months, hardly eating and hardly sleeping, with nobody to turn to.”

It’s been over six years since Mark was declared bankrupt, and nearly five years since he was released from prison. But even now, the financial burden of his gambling harms remains substantial. And, as we have already mentioned, people with problem debt are at increased risk of suicidal thoughts. So, every aspect of his wellbeing has, at some point, been impacted by gambling harms, even now when he dedicates so much of his time to supporting others with their gambling harms.  

Hopefully the information shared here today will encourage even one person to talk about their gambling, maybe for the first time; but let’s encourage those conversations to happen at any time, not just during Talk Money Week.

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