There was an extremely depressing and revealing Channel 4 TV 'Dispatches' documentary this evening, documenting the way in which the 2005 liberalisation of gambling by New Labour (Gordon Brown pulled back on 'super-casinos', but not the rest of it) has exposed poor communities in particular to businesses that take many thousands of pounds out of the local economy every day.
The demographic research charting the crowd-sourcing of betting shops in places of high unemployment and financial insecurity was especially disturbing. The human cost is very high indeed.
Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman finally admitted that her administration got it wrong. "If only we had been told", she said. They were, by the Quakers, Methodists, Salvation Army, secular addiction groups, Ekklesia and many others. But they weren't listening. Nor is the Coalition government at the moment, it seems.
This is why the genesis and development of Gambling Watch UK is so important, galvanising common action on an issue which should concern all those who believe in tackling inequality and financial chaos. Ekklesia is happy to endorse its aims and collaborative approach.
Gambling Watch UK is a welcome addition to the gambling landscape, the Quakers noted earlier this year when the organisation was set up.
The last few years have seen many changes as regards gambling: it is now widely advertised on the media, particularly via sporting events and on television - and advertising can include ‘free’ offers to get you started.
Many Local Authorities are concerned about the number of gambling premises in their areas, but they can’t refuse them just on the grounds they think there are too many. In the meanwhile, there has been a rise in the number of people who experience problems with gambling.
Quaker Action on Alcohol and Drugs, which has been active on gambling in recent times, has backed the group. It "recognises that there is a wider debate to be had about these broader issues. Are our attitudes and behaviour changing as regards gambling? Are we happy with the way things are going? The gambling industry represents its views (as it has a legitimate right to do) – but until now there have been few voices expressing a perspective that questions the social effects. Gambling Watch UK can add an informed and distinctive voice, and we look forward to hearing it."
* Gambling Watch UK: http://www.gamblingwatchuk.org/