Former addict questions UK levy strategy

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Gambling addiction levels are falling – without a government-led, industry-funded statutory levy, says a former UK gambling addiction charity leader.

Lee Willows (pictured), who came into the gambling space following an addiction that almost drove him to suicide, has warned that the UK risks losing its status as a world-class leader in social responsibility.

Commenting after the Westminster Media Forum – Next steps for UK gambling regulation and Labour Party MP Carolyn Harris’s Westminster Hall debate on the statutory gambling levy, Willows said: “I firmly believe the UK is a global leader in social responsibility, but I worry that flame might be dimming as the funding debate becomes more about a desire to break-up the very ecosystem that supported me and today supports many others. It is this Third Sector-led ecosystem that to my mind, makes us world-class.”

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Addressing the nature of the debate he asked: “Why have we allowed it to come down to narrow choices between the National Health Service or the Third Sector to deliver a national programme of treatment – why can’t both co-exist? I have often said we need a choir of voices and organisations in this space. Why is it so difficult for start-up organisations – often led by individuals with lived experience – to access funding? Why is the funding debate consistently tarnished by some who feel there is a lack of independence as opposed to recognising the impact of that funding, which in my experience is completely independent. Finally, why are we not humbled that addiction levels are coming down and education and awareness is now at an all-time high, being led by superb charities in a considered, well-thought and evidenced manner?”

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Willows added: “Whilst there is much more to be achieved, we should be humbled by this progress. Do we really think that big state NHS only programmes, funded by a statutory levy can do any better? Will big state programmes enable agility and innovation? Will big state programmes deliver better value for money? Will big state programmes really provide the funding for very local services or take a risk on start-up organisations or ideas, particularly from those with lived-experience, often starting out as sole-traders? Will big state, one size fits all programmes, be able to deal with the complexities around gambling addictions?”

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