Winning Post: UK Government silent on several key reviews

Regulus Partners observes that the UK government has remained silent on several key reviews ahead of the pending publication of its White Paper on Gambling Review recommendations…

As with Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition, it is extremely hard to know when to expect key events in the government’s review of the 2005 Gambling Act. This week’s non-barking dog was the Government response to the Prevention of Future Deaths Report in the case of ‘chronic gambler’ Jack Ritchie, who died by suicide in Vietnam in 2017.

The Departments for Culture, Media and Sport, Education and Health and Social Care were given until last Monday (2nd May) to respond to Coroner David Urpeth’s findings that the state’s provision of treatment services (and health warnings) for gambling disorder were insufficient – but no such statements appear to have been issued. The coroner may have decided to give the ministries more than the statutory 56 days to formulate a response but this is unclear. The absence of media outrage at the deadline’s passing suggests that at least some activists may know what is going on.

This latest delay fits the pattern of the Gambling Act Review. The Government did not publish its call for evidence until a year after the review had been launched and the consequent White Paper is now the best part of a year overdue. As we reported last week, the Gambling Commission’s Strategy to Prevent Gambling Harms has disappeared into the same regulatory Bermuda Triangle that also swallowed up its definition of vulnerability (pledged as far back as November 2020).

The Delphi Study from the Office of Health Improvement and Disparities is also missing in action, having reportedly been completed in November last year. This latter study may have a particularly significant bearing on the review’s outcome. It was commissioned last year to address issues identified in the now defunct Public Health England’s ‘dodgy dossier’ on gambling harms (which also appeared a year later than planned). The study’s scope included recommendations to “make gambling products less affordable and less attractive to gambling operators and consumers”.

The OHID Delphi Study is also a highly clandestine affair with the names of the ‘experts’ involved (including ‘experts by experience’) being withheld – and herein lies the rub. A review of gambling legislation that was advertised as being “evidence-led” has become a really rather murky affair.

The minister responsible for the review is strongly suspected of partisanship, state agencies now routinely engage in evidence manipulation and parliamentarians openly admit to fibbing in debates in both Houses. Coroner Urpeth’s Prevention of Future Deaths Report is extremely light on detail (as is the case with all such reports) which makes it difficult for the reader to assess the quality of the evidence considered or the proportionality of policy responses.

At the same time, there is a concerted effort to marginalise divergent opinions. Today, one national newspaper expresses front-page shock that senior executives of the gambling industry met with officials at HM Treasury to discuss the consequences of legislative change.

The suggestion that business leaders should not be permitted to engage with finance ministries to discuss the economic consequences of policy choices is straight out of the public health activism handbook. It is consistent with an anti-capitalist worldview that dominates discourse on gambling policy and so much else – revealing all of the problems associated with production and trade (or ‘commercial determinants of harm’) and none of the benefits. It is a creed that denies personal responsibility and simultaneously restricts personal freedom in the interests of the claimed common good. It is a sign of our times that a Conservative government should seem so comfortable with proponents of this ideology.

Amidst all the delays and missed deadlines, it is tempting to perceive an attempt to choreograph the presentation of ‘evidence’ to support whatever policies the Government has decided to propose in its White Paper. The dogs may not be barking now but it would be naïve to assume that they will stay quiet for too much longer.

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Featured article edited by SBC from ‘Winning Post’ Sunday 08 May  2022 (click on the below logo to access the full unedited analysis of Winning Post). 

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