Opinion: The Hypocrisy of NHS ‘Addiction Levy’ for UK Gambling Firms

  • Top NHS clinicians have called for a multimillion-pound ‘addiction levy’ for UK gambling firms 
  • However, Claire Murdoch just claimed the NHS wanted to cut ties with the gambling industry
  • The health service will also reject tens of millions of pounds from industry-funded GambleAware
  • Government bodies are happy to take the sector’s money but only when it is forced to provide it
Businessman looking at wall with question marks
VSO News writer Owain Flanders believes an ‘addiction levy’ for UK gambling firms would be hypocritical given the NHS’s rejection of GambleAware cash. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

NHS clinicians demand levy

Like most gambling markets across the globe, the UK has its fair share of addicts. Most recent estimates have suggested that around 246,000 people suffer from compulsive gambling in the region, and the National Health Service (NHS) has stepped up its efforts to treat those victims over the past few years.

a new multimillion-pound statutory ‘addiction levy’

With the aim of improving this treatment further, top NHS clinicians have just called for a new multimillion-pound statutory ‘addiction levy.’ Based on the principle of ‘polluter pays,’ it would see gambling firms provide a percentage of income to treat addicts.

As reported by The Guardian this week, Prof. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, and Dr. Matt Gaskell, clinical lead for the NHS Northern Gambling Service, are united in their calls for such a levy. They have also asked for a new independent health board to tackle gambling addiction.

It is difficult to argue that such a levy wouldn’t be fair, or that the underfunded NHS doesn’t require a cash influx for gambling treatment, but there is one major issue with this new plan; namely, that the NHS just decided to reject tens of millions of pounds from GambleAware.

Voluntary funds don’t count

Just last month, NHS mental health director Claire Murdoch announced that the body intended to cut ties with gambling addiction charity GambleAware by April 1. She claimed that, understandably, patients felt uncomfortable benefitting from the sector, which donates millions to GambleAware voluntarily each year.

“It is also absolutely right that the NHS now funds these clinics independently,” Murdoch asserted when announcing the news.“The predatory tactics from gambling companies are part of the problem, not the solution.”

So, just to make that clear, Murdoch and the NHS don’t need the money of an industry creating the problem they are trying to treat. Unless that is, the money is provided through an ‘addiction levy.’ After all, everybody knows that voluntary funds don’t count in the battle against compulsive gambling.

Bowden-Jones and Gaskell claim that a levy would provide vital funds for gambling addiction each year, reaching into the tens of millions of pounds. Notably, between March 2020 and December last year, gambling companies contributed £35m ($45.7m) to GambleAware, a large portion of which went straight to NHS specialist clinics.

It seems the NHS is playing an interesting game, both rejecting and demanding industry funds at the same time.

A matter of public image

Ultimately, NHS demands for a statutory levy are hypocritical. Murdoch decided to cut ties with the industry, declaring that the NHS should fund itself independently. A mandatory levy would only drag the sector back into the situation, just forcing companies to provide cash instead of encouraging them.

There’s also another issue. If, as Murdoch says, gambling addiction patients are unhappy benefitting from the sector through GambleAware, why would a statutory levy be any different? The funds are still coming from the same industry that they oppose, even if businesses are now forced to provide them.

the UK government is making its hypocritical stance on the sector all too clear

As government bodies so often do in regards to the gambling industry, the NHS is attempting to place itself on the right side of public opinion. By rejecting funds with one hand and accepting them into the other, the UK government is making its hypocritical stance on the sector all too clear.

At the end of the day, the most important aspect of this debate is the effective treatment of gambling addiction patients. If NHS clinicians need funds for this treatment, which I’m sure they do, then they should continue to accept GambleAware donations. If they need more cash, they should ask for more, and I’m certain the £14bn+ ($15.35bn+) per year industry would provide.