We spoke to Neil Platt, Project Lead and Clinical Director at Beacon Counselling Trust (BCT) and Brian Faint, former Senior Investigation Manager at Cheshire Police and now BCT Programme Manager, on gambling related harms in criminal justice.
Previous research has shown that harms associated with gambling are wide-ranging. These include not only harm to the individual gambler, but also to their families, close associates and wider society. There have been growing calls by the public health services, people with lived experience and parliamentarians, to address community wide concerns by providing a public health approach to tackle gambling related harms.
The scope of the issue
Gambling related harm research findings show that 47% of the population, aged 16 years and over, have taken part in some form of gambling in the past four weeks. Estimates from various reports published by the Gambling Commission and Gamble Aware indicate there are between 500,000 and 1.4 million problem gamblers in the UK.
The impact of harmful gambling on both the individual and affected others include; mental health issues, financial hardship, wellbeing issues, higher risk of suicidal ideation and intent, drug and alcohol misuse, problems with education and work, criminality, relationship difficulties and the associated social and psychological impact on individuals and those around them. Findings published by the Institute for Public Policy Research in 2016 discovered that harmful gamblers, in contrast to the general population, are:
• Three times more likely to have visited their GP in the last year due to mental health issues.
• Nine times more likely to be accessing mental health services.
• Six times more likely to have been a hospital inpatient within the last three months.
• Three times more likely to be claiming Job Seekers Allowance.
• Nine times more likely to access homelessness services.
• Four times more likely to be in prison.
Pushing for change
In the last few years there has been a greater push to take a collaborative approach through multi-agency work to tackle gambling related harms. In 2019 The Gambling Commission set out their national strategy to reduce gambling related harms across the UK. Also, a more national approach to addressing the links between gambling and crime dovetails into the Howard League for Penal Reform’s Commision on Crime and Problem Gambling.
Research has indicated a significant link between problem gambling and criminality. Prior to the gambling screening pathway pilot, created by Cheshire Constabulary, there had been little work done to address problematic gambling within the UK’s criminal justice system. There was also a lack of provision for those with gambling addictions both within the infrastructure of the criminal justice system and wider support services.
Screening & diversion
On the back of the success of the pilot in Cheshire, ten police force areas have now developed and embedded a gambling screening, treatment, and diversion pathway. The development of these pathways involved a strategic steering group; working in collaboration with Senior Police Managers, Healthcare Professionals, Liaison and Diversion staff and National Health Services. At the heart of this work was prevention and education – ensuring progression towards a clear vision for the implementation of the public health prevention plan which included a combination of interventions, treatment and support – by delivering a national treatment and support service provision, placing the needs of the users at the heart of national strategies.
The screening process is based around a simple four question protocol called the Gamble Aware Screening Tool General (GAST-G). It is a tool designed for non-specialist front facing services to be able to identify if the presenting person is affected by problematic gambling and then to engage them in the most appropriate intervention. Following screening, individuals may require a brief intervention with some advice and guidance, or they may require a referral into a comprehensive specialist and support service provider like Beacon Counselling Trust. Cheshire police have also created the opportunity for a person presenting with a gambling related harm to have access to an alternative criminal justice diversion programme via community resolutions and conditional cautions.
Cheshire police use the questions from the GAST G screening tool, to screen 98% of those in custody at the point of entry into the criminal justice system and offer each individual with a bespoke consultation with a healthcare professional whilst detained, or as a voluntary attendee to a police station. This process provides the opportunity for an individual to receive the screening questions for gambling related harm, collecting valuable well-being information which enables the appropriate signposting into treatment.
Training for staff
An education and awareness training programme, created by the Beacon Counselling Trust and provided to Police Custody Officers and Liaison and Diversion staff, enables them to address gambling related harms in custody suites. The “Bet You Can Help programme” - described as a gambling first aid course - was developed to facilitate early identification of people presenting with gambling issues. This enables the police and healthcare professionals to facilitate diversion from the criminal justice system, provide support, and to reduce victims of gambling related harm through criminality. This work has reduced the risk of harms related to gambling and offers support to student officers in understanding gambling-related harms and the impact that this has on their communities. The Bet You Can Help program contributes to the Safer Gambling Movement by increasing awareness of gambling-related harms, delivering prevention strategies and improving community awareness to identify at-risk people and groups.
For more information about this work, please contact Brian Faint at Brian.Faint@beaconcounsellingtrust.co.uk
To read the full case-study compiled on the Gambling Screening Pilot in 2018, click here.
This case-study was compiled by Jason Watt in 2021