Lives still at stake

ES­CAP­ING STREETS OF SHAME We’ll fight on to pull the plug on FOBT hell

The People - - NEWS FEATURES -

FIXED Odds Bet­ting Ter­mi­nals. Four words that I have prob­a­bly said more than any oth­ers in the last three years.

Four words that sound quite in­no­cent.

But four words that have caused dev­as­ta­tion to those cursed with an ad­dic­tion to play­ing these ma­chines. And to their fam­i­lies.

When I first started cam­paign­ing for a re­duc­tion in the stakes on FOBTS, I was a newly elected Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment.

Tak­ing the lead on this gen­uinely cross-party cam­paign, I was pos­si­bly out of my depth and prob­a­bly naive.

Proud

But I was pas­sion­ate and de­ter­mined enough to speak up for peo­ple who were bat­tling against the hold these elec­tronic demons had over their lives.

Get­ting the stake re­duced seemed al­most im­pos­si­ble in those early days but as the months passed I be­gan to re­alise I could make a dif­fer­ence.

I was no longer the new, in­ex­pe­ri­enced MP. I was some­one who peo­ple were lis­ten­ing to, some­one quite ca­pa­ble of tak­ing on the book­mak­ers and win­ning.

I was there­fore de­lighted on May 17 when the Gov­ern­ment an­nounced a stake re­duc­tion for fixed odds bet­ting ter­mi­nals from £100 to £2 per spin.

This wel­come, and long over­due, change will see po­ten­tial losses for in­di­vid­ual gam­blers plum­met from £18,000 an hour to only £360.

This will be life-chang­ing, pos­si­bly even life-sav­ing, for many gam­bling ad­dicts up and down the coun­try. To have worked with col­leagues from BE­YOND the Streets is a na­tional char­ity that works with women to find ways out of pros­ti­tu­tion.

They in­vited me to an Al­ter­na­tive Jack the Rip­per Tour in East Lon­don, which raises aware­ness about the harsh realities faced by vic­tims of women sell­ing sex. Pros­ti­tu­tion across the House to achieve this his­toric mile­stone makes me very proud.

To have achieved some­thing that will so re­duce the causes of prob­lem gam­bling and the re­lated harm makes me even prouder.

Since the Gov­ern­ment first an­nounced its con­sul­ta­tion on stakes back in Oc­to­ber 2016, £3bil­lion has been lost on fixed-odds bet­ting ter­mi­nals – of­ten by those who can least af­ford it.

Last year alone, 230,000 peo­ple lost more than £1,000 on one of these toxic ma­chines. For many the losses were much higher. This needs to stop – and it needs to stop quickly.

Ev­ery day that passes is an­other day that threat­ens vul­ner­a­ble ad­dicts.

The book­mak­ers’ ar­gu­ment that they need time to make tech­ni­cal ad­just­ments to the ma­chines is non­sense. This can hap­pen quickly.

Gov­ern­ment min­is­ters are say­ing they can re­duce the stake only once they in­crease the duty on on­line gam­bling and that this could take up to two years. While I agree that on­line

WHEN I lost my eight-year-old son Martin I was asked to do­nate his or­gans. At the time, I couldn’t bear the thought. But as time has passed, and my daugh­ter-in-law waits for a kid­ney trans­plant, I’ve re­alised we need to be hav­ing more con­ver­sa­tions with loved ones about do­na­tion. When we lose some­one, we have the op­por­tu­nity to give life to oth­ers. Wales in­tro­duced an opt-out sys­tem for or­gan do­na­tion in 2015. Hope­fully Eng­land will fol­low suit soon. is a form of vi­o­lence against women.

The women we are talk­ing about are not women in lav­ish, glam­orous broth­els or women who use we­b­cams to in­crease their bank bal­ance.

These women are sell­ing sex as a means for sur­vival. They are fac­ing home­less­ness and sub­stance mis­use. They are fronting unimag­in­able dan­gers, yet these women are still crim­i­nalised and stig­ma­tised.

I am grate­ful to have been able to at­tend the tour and thank­ful that or­gan­i­sa­tions such as Be­yond the Streets ex­ist. op­er­a­tors should be taxed more, this timescale is to­tally un­ac­cept­able.

The fixed-odds bet­ting ter­mi­nals an­nounce­ment should be a guar­an­teed prom­ise that the pro­posed changes will hap­pen as soon as pos­si­ble.

My­self and my col­leagues, from across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, have worked tire­lessly to get this far. The Sun­day Peo­ple also cam­paigned vig­or­ously for this vi­tal re­form.

And we will not stop un­til the Gov­ern­ment im­ple­ments the changes they have promised.

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