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Women ‘failed’ as Scotland lags years behind England on female-only gambling support

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Research from the sector in England shows that women who experience gambling harm are more stigmatised than men as the issue is seen as a “masculine” problem given that traditionally gambling is seen as a men’s pastime.

Women fear their children may be removed from their care if they admit to a problem and feel shame at “failing” in traditional caring roles, research suggests.

Simon Community Scotland is leading the call for Scottish female-only services because of the interaction between homelessness and gambling harm – one in five people experiencing homelessness also experience problem gambling.

The charity said the link between the two issues is complex with gambling being both a direct cause of a person losing their home or a secondary cause, such as a relationship breakdown due to gambling.

It can also, Simon Community Scotland said, be the case that a person might start gambling when they experience homelessness in order to escape negative emotions or due to the potential to win money that might help them secure a home.

Simon Community Scotland has been raising awareness about the issue in its established support groups and recently brought together experts in Glasgow for a summit on the issue, A Quiet Storm.

Lorraine McGrath, the charity’s CEO, said: “There is increasing evidence of undeniable links between homelessness and gambling harms as both a cause and consequence, which is even more acute for women, who experience more hidden harms and experience more severe harms much more rapidly than men.

“Simon Community Scotland is learning with and from the people we support about the impact of gambling harms and their experience of homelessness.

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“We want to tackle all the causes and consequences of homelessness, which has led us to examine what difference we can make in raising awareness, finding solutions and ensuring people and especially women have a safe place to share their experience of gambling harms.

“It feels we are so far behind other parts of the UK and the world in Scotland, we need to have more learning events like A Quiet Storm, to raise the voices of women with lived experiences and learn about what is possible to tackle the system and societal drivers of gambling harms and find the right solutions for those who find themselves experiencing homelessness as a result.”

The gambling industry has been criticised for targetting areas with higher levels of poverty with the number of bookmakers dropping significantly in more affluent communities.

Coatbridge, in North Lanarkshire, and Milngavie, in East Dunbartonshire, may have the same population of 44,000 but Coatbridge has 22 bookies, two bingo halls and one arcade while the more upmarket Milngavie has one bookmakers.

Glasgow has the highest number of bookies outside of London, despite not being the UK’s second largest city.

Experts say gambling firms target women specifically, such as courting new mothers through online advertising and using social media influencers on new mum sites.

“Affected others” is the term used for those impacted by the problem gambling of people close to them and often women are more affected; they see a deterioration in their mental and physical health, are placed under financial strain as debts are put in their name, and experience the instability caused by relationship breakdown.

Liz Riley, head of research and development at the charity BetKnowMore, said 44% of all adults gambled in some way in the past four weeks in 2023.

Historically, more men than women gamble and that remains the case but the gap between men and women gambling is closing: in 2019 51% of men had gambled in the past four weeks but 41% for women. By 2023 it was 45% of men and women up to 42%.

Ms Riley said: “The really interesting thing is you go from a 10 percentage point gap between men and women in 2019 down to a three percentage point gap in 2023.

“Historically men have been more likely than women to gamble but that gap is closing.

“But the narrative is quite a long way behind and the services are quite a long way behind in recognising that women have different experiences of gambling and gambling harm and they have specific needs that gambling services should be taking into account.”

The Herald:

Sharon Collard, Professor of Personal Finance at the University of Bristol, said the way women gamble has begun to change, particularly post-lockdown.

She said: “There’s this stereotype that women gamble in bingo halls and on scratch cards and the lottery and yes, that remains true to an extent, but increasingly women are gambling in more complex ways, they’re getting involved in more sports betting so there’s not those gendered stereotypes, they are not founded in fact any more.”

Ease of access to gambling has increased the issue with mobile phones giving round-the-clock opportunities while women are targeted by specific advertising that glamorises gambling as something exciting and sociable.

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Professor Collard added: “More women are admitting to gambling. So the overall proportions of women gambling haven’t increased massively but the numbers gambling online have been increasing significantly.

“There are fundamental reasons why women might gamble and these are different from men – woman are wanting an escape from difficult or demanding home situations, relief from a sense of isolation.

“I talked to a woman who spoke about her gambling increasing while she was pregnant because she had a lot of time to wait around at hospital appointments with nothing else to do.

“A new baby can be isolating.

“But also gambling as a way of earning money because we earn less than men over the course of a lifetime. Women have less access to financial resources so it can be seen as a way out of poverty.”

The UK has one of the largest gambling markets globally and generated a pre-tax and deductions profit of £12.7bn in the 2020-2021 financial year.

Some 2.2 million people in England have, or are at risk of, a form of gambling addiction, according to the UK Health Security Agency.

Lisa Walker, who has set up a women’s peer support group with the charity with the charity BetKnowMore, said Scotland must catch up with England on this issue.

Ms Walker, from Rainham in Essex, ended up losing half a million pounds during the course of her problem gambling and ended up homeless with her two young children.

Her addiction spiralled out of control after she won £127,000 playing poker – but she lost it all and far more.

The 49-year-old told how she re-mortgaged her home to try to pay off debts but eventually lost it, going to the bookies as soon as she had dropped her children at school.

She eventually sought help and now dedicates herself to campaigning for other people suffering from problem gambling.

Ms Walker, speaking at the event in Glasgow, told The Herald: “Where you are starting from in Scotland is so far behind. You have got to raise awareness of this issue.

“If you’d just met me in the street you wouldn’t never have known I was a gambler, you would just have thought she’s a nice, normal girl.

“And it does take you to some dark places. I’m a pretty sensible person, never experimented with drugs and I was brought up in the acid house era where I could easily have gone down that route but I never did.

“Gambling, though, took over my life.”

Ms Walker said 80% of the women she supports are gambling online and often lured in by glamorising advertising or phrases like “join our community”, giving gambling sites a family feel.

One woman, she said, was gambling on American websites and, when her phone broke, the company sent her an iPad to continue gambling.

She added: “This woman had lost £80,000 so the company wanted her to keep going but I told her to put the iPad straight in the bin.

“I know women who have set up 10 different accounts in one day. How can that be allowed to happen?

“I bang on everyone’s doors and I don’t shut up. I’m a big advocate for women and I won’t stop.”

For help and support with gambling issues go to GamCare.org or call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020133

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