Problem Gambling Needs Budget Support
26 April 2016 at 11:23 am
Financial Counselling Australia (FCA) has released a report on the impact of gambling addiction and called on the federal government to include funding for specialist financial counsellors in the upcoming budget.
The report titled Problem Gambling Financial Counselling: Survey and Case Studies used case studies from 68 people and data about the work and output of problem gambling financial counsellors from 27 of 32 community agencies across Australia to give a human face to the problem of gambling addiction.
Since 2012 the federal government has provided funding for 50 new problem gambling financial counsellors who were placed in areas with a high proportion of poker machines to treat people with gambling issues.
The report found that most clients of problem gambling financial counsellors were unable to pay their bills and debts. The impact on the family was widespread with relationship breakdowns, family violence, suicide ideation or suicide attempts, involvement in fraud or other crime being reported by the agencies.
The report found that poker machines were the most common form of problem gambling across all genders and age groups but online sports betting was on the rise and primarily involved young men. Around one-third of clients were engaged in multiple forms of gambling.
According to Fiona Guthrie, CEO of the FCA, specialist financial counselling that is geared towards treating problem gambling can help people recover from financial ruin and get back on track.
She said that while such financial counselling did not work for everyone with gambling addictions, the report showed that a majority of people gained substantial benefits both financially and on their physical and mental health.
“We have to try to remove the stigma… some people don’t recognise they have got problems with gambling and when they do they are very embarrassed or ashamed about trying to address it,” Guthrie said.
“The other way is to make it easy to access gambling help but also problem gambling financial counselling which is also an important part of the service delivery model.
“The report is not a statistical insight into problem gambling but is based on case studies and recordings from agencies.
“But we do know from other data, and it certainly comes true from our report that more men are involved in online sports betting. I think there is probably a lot that can be done around that area, particularly in trying to get men in seeking help early. But our view is that it is not about trying to save people after the problems have started but trying to prevent them in the first place. The fact [is] that gambling advertising on television and sports betting is so prevalent and that we are normalising gambling as something you do without giving it much thought.
“Rather than thinking about how we can do more when they have got the problem, why not stop them in the first place?”
Guthrie said the current funding of $6.6 million per annum to community agencies who hire problem gambling financial counsellors was a “relatively modest amount” but that she would be “delighted” if it continued in the budget.
“Obviously we think there is a lot of need and you could double that [amount] and put much more people into the sector,” she said.
Guthrie said that many programs in the community sector are funded till the end of June every year and having the federal budget in May meant that agencies didn’t have enough time to protect themselves from negative changes to their funding.
“We are put in an incredibly anxious position and we have to manage financial positions with longer term rental contracts and the like. Maybe the government and community sector should look at when contracts terms should start and finish. They should maybe end in September to have enough of a chance to know what’s going to happen to you and your clients,” she said.
“Depending on the agency and how happy they are and what reserves they have, some of them will have to start closing their service down straight away. Others will have a little bit of more time but they are putting in contingencies plans at the moment.
“If the funding finishes, they would still have funding for general financial service. But they might not be able to provide this specialist service.”