UK Politics

Labour plan gambling levy to fund addiction treatment

Bookmaker Image copyright PA

Labour has said it would force bookmakers to pay a compulsory levy to help treat problem gamblers.

Deputy leader Tom Watson said the cash would be used for treatment to end the "destructive cycle of addiction".

Speaking at the party conference in Brighton, he urged gambling firms to "stop targeting vulnerable people and start acting properly".

The Association of British Bookmakers said it wouldn't oppose an "appropriate levy" to help treat gambling addicts.

Labour has vowed to tackle Britain's "hidden epidemic of gambling addiction", and earlier this month proposed a ban on adverts for betting firms on football shirts.

Mr Watson returned to the theme in his speech to delegates on Tuesday, saying some companies are "deliberately targeting our poorest communities even as hundreds of thousands of lives are ruined by addiction".

"Gambling addiction is an illness and it's about time it was taken seriously," he said.

He announced a review which will also examine the ability of the NHS to offer mental health services to gambling addicts.

'Working together'

A 2015 report by the Gambling Commission estimated the number of "problem gamblers" to be between 300,000 to 430,000 people. It defined this as "gambling to a degree that compromises, disrupts or damages family, personal or recreational pursuits".

Currently, gambling companies make voluntary contributions to the charity GambleAware to help pay for education, research, and treating gambling addiction. But Labour will consider replacing this with a compulsory system.

The Association of British Bookmakers said it backed an "evidence-based approach to helping problem gambling in the UK and would support Mr Watson's idea of a review, if it facilitated this".

A spokesman added: "We also would not oppose an appropriate, compulsory levy on the gambling industry to fund problem gambling treatment, as we have long argued that the gambling industry needs to work together to reduce the number of problem gamblers and address the fact that most problem gamblers move between different forms of gambling."

Also on day three of Labour's conference in Brighton, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for a £500m winter bailout for the NHS.

Labour say the extra money is needed to boost the capacity of hospitals, allow the NHS to hire extra non-agency staff and improve the transfer of patients to social care.

The party has pledged to boost spending on the NHS through a 5% hike in income tax for the highest earners and says a winter bailout could be paid for through this.

The government said it has "robust plans in place" for winter which are supported by "an extra £100m for A&E departments and £2bn funding for the social care system".

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