From betting to minimum pricing: saving the poor from themselves?

Saturday 18 October, 14.00 until 15.30, Frobisher 1-3, Barbican Defending Everyday Liberties

The government was widely mocked for this year’s ‘beer and bingo budget’, apparently aimed at giving the working classes more of what ‘they’ enjoy. It also seemed to buck the trend of public-health interventions to curb such vices. Yet despite introducing measures to create a ‘floor price’ for alcohol and plain packaging for cigarettes, the government has been criticised by campaigners for not doing enough to tackle the perceived social and health problems affecting poor communities. Amid growing anxiety about the rise of betting shops in deprived areas, fuelled in part by the popularity of fixed-odds betting terminals (dubbed the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’), Labour politicians and public-health experts are calling for tougher regulations to ‘stand up for communities’ against the power of the gambling and alcohol industries.

While there seems to be political consensus that ‘high street casinos’ and cheap alcohol represent a growing social issue, others see overtones of puritanism. It is argued that, overall, gambling addiction and problem drinking affects relatively small numbers of consumers, and dealing with such problems requires specific interventions rather than broad-brush legislation. For most of their customers, industry representatives argue, alcohol and gambling are as benign as leisure pursuits like sport and shopping. Others suggest the growing numbers held at to be vulnerable or ‘at risk’ has been exaggerated in the context of a loss of faith in individuals’ capacity to make decisions for themselves.

Are alcohol and gambling really creating social problems or has the leisure industry become an easy scapegoat for underlying issues like poverty and unemployment? Are campaigns for tougher regulation responding to genuine public concerns or top-down paternalism from the man in Whitehall? And is opposition to the increasing visibility of once-hidden vices driven more by moralism than evidence? Should business be taking a more active role in discouraging reckless behaviour, or does the responsibility lie with individuals? Isn’t the freedom to indulge recklessly part of the appeal of having a flutter?

Watch the debate:

Listen to the debate:

David Lammy MP
Labour MP for Tottenham; author, Out of the Ashes: Britain after the riots

Ken MacLeod
award-winning science fiction writer; author, Descent, The Restoration Game and Intrusion; writer-in-residence, MA Creative Writing, Edinburgh Napier University 2013-2014

Christine Thompson
manager, UK government relations, SABMiller

Gareth Wallace
public affairs adviser, The Salvation Army; adviser, Gambling Commission’s Community Liaison Group

David Bowden
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer

Produced by
David Bowden associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer
Recommended readings
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Rob Lyons, spiked, 11 February 2014

Lifestyle meddling: the ‘crack cocaine’ of politics

Fixed-odds betting terminals are a minor problem compared with the authoritarianism of modern politicians.

David Bowden, spiked, 9 December 2013

Alcohol minimum pricing should be this government’s first bold evidence-based drug policy

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Ewan Hoyle, Lib-Dem Voice, 30 December 2011

Our high streets don’t need the Las Vegas gambling effect

They're the new face of London's neighbourhood high streets: the garish plastic window sheets that stop people looking inside bookmakers.

David Lammy, Evening Standard, 25 February 2010

Is it right to introduce a minimum alcohol price to tackle alcohol-related problems?

With the Prime Minister reportedly signalling his support for putting a minimum unit price on alcohol, debate continues as to whether such proposals are illiberal or necessary when considering the harmful effects of excessive alcohol consumption.

Dr. Sarah Wollaston MP & Philip Davies MP, Centre for Policy Studies

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