As part of the LGIU’s Global Local focus on how local government is tackling gambling addiction, this article looks at how North Ayrshire Council became the first Council in Scotland to create its own in-house guide to help staff manage harms caused by gambling.
Covering an area of around 886 sq.km, North Ayrshire Council is one of the 15th most populated Council areas and is well-recognised internationally for its pioneering work in Community Wealth Building. Yet, this article explores the innovative approach they’ve taken to addressing gambling issues facing staff within their own organisation.
The impact that problem gambling can have on people’s lives – including their working lives – is well documented. Compulsive gamblers can:
- Battle with debt;
- Experience absence from work;
- Face mental and physical health issues;
- Experience the deterioration of relationships and suicidal thoughts.
To tackle this problem internally, North Ayrshire Council recently became one of the first local authorities in Scotland to create its own in-house guide to help staff manage the harms caused by gambling. The Council has also signed up to the Harmful Gambling Workplace Charter, which was created by trade unions to help them and other employers support anyone facing difficulties.
The key to the Council’s approach is to have an open-door policy, making it clear to anyone who is struggling that they can speak up and help is available. The support available includes:
- The Council’s Wellbeing Warriors team – staff who are there to talk things through with colleagues during challenging times.
- Guidance from the team at Money Matters.
- A direct line to trade union representatives for members.
Louise McDaid, UNISON branch secretary for North Ayrshire, has experience of supporting a loved one through gambling addiction. She said the person started gambling around the age of 11 or 12, starting off on fruit machines before moving on to horses and greyhounds, and over the years lost between £80,000 and £100,000.
“The key thing to note is that gambling cuts across class. I have met people from all walks of life and professions, and the damage caused by gambling has been terrible. There are 400 suicides per year linked to gambling in England and Wales. We don’t know the figures for Scotland because we don’t record them. We don’t ask the question. How many do we think there were in Scotland? Let’s avoid even one… that’s what this is about.”
“We lost a young man to suicide through gambling, a number of years ago, at the Council. We need to have conversations – don’t ignore it. And the most important thing about the Council’s new HR guide and the Charter is that it allows you to talk.”
As a Council that strives to be Fair For All, staff’s health and wellbeing is vitally important, and both the Charter and the in-house guide will make it easier for employees, colleagues and managers to access key information and receive or offer support confidentially and sensitively.
Council employee Christopher Collins, who is a Recovery Development Worker, has personal experience as a compulsive gambler and is currently in recovery having abstained for six years. He explains;
“I started to take on a lot of debts. I started pawning stuff and selling my possessions. I was a vinyl collector at the time and sold my records. I then stopped eating, lost weight and wasn’t looking after myself. I must have had 40 or 50 different accounts for gambling and spent absolute thousands. I got a benefits backdate of a few thousand pounds – and that was gone within hours.”
Talking about his life now, Christopher remarks;
“It is one day at a time for me, absolutely no gambling. I can’t even do a tombola or a raffle. But I like myself now, and when I was gambling I didn’t. I am really proud of this Council for being the first in Ayrshire to provide this type of support and guidance through the HR Guide and the charter because, in my opinion, there is a crisis out there.”
Councillor Christina Larsen, Cabinet Member for Finance and Procurement, added:
“I am pleased that the Council has signed up to the Charter because it will help employees get the suitable support they need. The impact of problem gambling has an effect on people’s personal lives and their work lives, and we want staff to know there is help available.
Managers working within Council services can also get guidance on how to support staff who disclose that they have an issue. And the aim is to help people at an early stage.”
Find out more about North Ayrshire Council’s ongoing work to address gambling issues right here.