Lee Willows, YGAM Chief Executive reflects on some of the key topics to emerge from three reports published last week and highlights the valuable contribution the charity is making.
Lee Willows: “We must be guided by the education sector to deliver effective prevention programmes to young people.”
Last week was a significant week for everyone connected the gambling industry. Reading the Advisory Board for Safer Gambling (ABSG) annual progress report; The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report and the Lords Select Committee report, it was pleasing to read these reports all featured insight from people with direct experience of the tragic harm that gambling can cause some individuals, such as the YGAM Founders. Lee Willows, as Chief Executive of the YGAM charity and personally as someone who lost everything to a gambling addiction, I was grateful for the opportunity to contribute my insight and experiences. Such inclusion would have been unheard of five-years ago. Having three incredibly helpful reports published in quick succession over a period of five days is in many ways helpful and timely as YGAM continues to evolve our strategy. I congratulate everyone involved in producing three fascinating reports that will inform the debate moving forward.
At YGAM, we strongly believe that prevention, including education is an essential component to reduce gambling-related harms. We engage with the education sector daily and we are constantly listening to the needs of teachers, practitioners and young people. It is very clear from these conversations that teachers and practitioners need and appreciate our resources more than ever. The feedback we get from teachers, practitioners and young people and the insight from external evaluations is overwhelmingly positive and there is an enormous demand for information on gambling and gaming. Whilst it was pleasing to see education feature in all three reports, the voices of the professionals working in that sector should also be taken into consideration. We must continue to be guided by professionals working in the education sector to deliver effective prevention programmes to young people.
The focus on the blurred lines between gaming and gambling is welcomed. The YGAM workshops help build digital resilience and educate people on the different types of games accessible to children. We agree with the DCMS Select Committee and the Children’s Commissioner that loot boxes that contain the element of chance should not be sold to children under 18. The concern about allowing children to access loot boxes is that it is conditioning them to gambling behaviour from an early age. Building on our discussions with DCMS we look forward to contributing to the government’s call to action on loot boxes which will hopefully lead to consideration of an appropriate regulatory intervention.
The debate around gambling advertising and the impact it has on younger generations is imperative. You do not have to work in this sector to notice that gambling adverts dominate the promotional spaces at most sporting events. The YGAM resources tackle this topic head on as we continue to raise awareness of the potential harms and the support available. We believe concerns about marketing and sponsorship should be addressed by evidence-based analysis that puts the safety of young people first and we look forward to contributing to this debate.
When the Gambling Commission launched the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling-Related Harms, there was real hope for change and there has been some positive change; yes more can be done and some actions need to move in a more expedient manner, but change does take time. I also worry that in the desire to affect structural change, or radically change strategic direction part way through a national strategy may result in valuable insight being lost. I do see many people and organisations coming together to deliver the strategy which is superb and that is where we will continue to have a relentless focus.
Certainly in my time in YGAM I have seen Safer Gambling teams within operators increase from one employee, who led Safer Gambling work on a part-time bases, to now large Safer Gambling teams with twenty plus employees working full-time in this area of work. In that time, I have also seen and been fortunate to work alongside others who have been affected by gambling-harms set up their own organisations and I have witnessed the rise of passionate campaigners who demand change, often following tragic circumstances. At the heart of all this work is a shared commitment to reduce-harms and it would be so oxygenating if more time can be spent finding common goals and delivering the national strategy.
As a prevention charity we will continue to focus on the delivery of education, building and sharing insight and demonstrating impact. This is a crucial period for the future of this sector and everyone at YGAM looks forward to working collaboratively with all stakeholder groups to ensure all young and vulnerable people are safe from gaming and gambling related harms.
Finally, YGAM has published its strategic plan 2019 – 2021 and within our annual review filed with the Charity Commission and Companies House we share progress against our strategic goals and insight. However next week, we will have a dedicated page on our website which will also show this progress, insight, and our impact in a succinct manner. I am incredibly proud of the YGAM team and many colleagues from all parts of the sector (inc charities, trade bodies, operators, regulators, ABSG, DCMS, teachers, young people, EbEs); working hard to make a difference in this space.
YGAM is a national charity with a social purpose to inform, educate, safeguard and build digital resilience amongst young and vulnerable people, helping them to make informed decisions and understand consequences around gambling and gaming.