Government must tackle rates of gambling addiction which is a 'crisis waiting to happen', according to a Yorkshire MP

The Government must tackle the disproportionate rates of gambling addiction in the region, which is costing lives and is a “crisis waiting to happen” among children, a Yorkshire MP has said.

Tracy Brabin, MP for Batley and Spen and Labour’s West Yorkshire mayoral candidate, said the Government needed to take “urgent action” to stop a generation of young people becoming gambling addicts.

Ms Brabin praised the specialist NHS Northern Gambling Clinic, which is based in Leeds, but said more must be done, especially to protect children from the harms of gambling.

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She highlighted figures from the Gambling Commission which showed that 450,000 children in Britain are gambling regularly.

She said: “This is an absolute crisis waiting to happen when they get to be teenagers with responsibilities and income.

“It's really important that we tackle this now.

“As a parent of two girls who are now young women, drugs and drinking are the things that parents are worried about. But actually, gambling is potentially a greater risk for our children.”

Ms Brabin, who has spoken in Parliament about a constituent who took their own life as a result of gambling addiction, praised the bravery of the people who have told the Yorkshire Post about their own addiction, as well as campaigners in the region who have lost family members though suicide due to gambling problems.

She said: “It's important that we keep a weather eye on this and that Covid doesn't become our number one public health emergency when actually, there will be many more coming down the line because we haven't looked in that direction.”

Yorkshire has higher than average rates of gambling addiction - 0.8 per cent of people in the region have a gambling problem, compared with a national average 0.7 per cent.

Statistically, it is a bigger problem than alcohol or drug addiction.

Charities have told the Yorkshire Post they are treating people in the region for more severe gambling problems mixed with mental health issues, and warn that levels are expected to rise.

The Government is currently consulting on reforms to gambling laws to help tackle the proliferation of addiction.

The UK has some of the most relaxed laws on gambling in the world, following the liberalisation of laws brought by the Gambling Act 2005, which are seen as no longer fit for purpose due to the rise in gambling websites in the last 15 years.

Michael Dugher, chief executive of the Betting and Gaming Council said the industry welcomed reform, as long as it did not drive gambling underground.

He said: “For millions of people, it is a carefree leisure activity, and they do so perfectly safely and perfectly responsibly. But we recognise, as do the Government, as do campaigners and others that there is a small group of people who can have a problem with this, and in some cases it can be very, very severe.

“What we're saying is you've got to get the regulation right because what we don't want is to drive customers away from safer gambling on the regulated high standard sites to the illegal black market offshore companies.”

Speaking at the launch of the Gambling Act review, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden, said: “This comprehensive review will ensure we are tackling problem gambling in all its forms to protect children and vulnerable people. It will also help those who enjoy placing a bet to do so safely."