How does gambling impact vulnerable adults?

Researchers at King's College London are seeking social workers to take part in a study about how gambling may affect adults with care needs

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By Stephanie Bramley, Caroline Norrie & Jill Manthorpe

Researchers at King’s College London are investigating how gambling-related harm may be affecting adults with care and support needs. Our study is called ‘Adults at risk and gambling: exploring the nature of gambling-related harm’ and consists of three parts. Phase one was a scoping review, and in phase two we interviewed key informants from charities, health care professionals and third sector organisations.

We are now starting phase three, which involves interviews with practitioners. We would like to speak to people from across adult social care, including those working in safeguarding, mental health, addictions, housing and domestic abuse services.

Earlier this year, social workers were issued with guidance by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services on how to protect vulnerable adults from financial abuse and scams. This included advice on how to spot the signs of someone responding to scams, how to talk to them, and how to prevent this form of abuse.

The guidance also featured a case study about a gambling scam. A man was targeted by a Spanish lottery, which repeatedly asked him to send payments in order to receive a prize that he had supposedly won while on holiday in Spain. Despite sending payments totalling £164,000, the man did not receive his prize.

‘How do services respond?’

Gambling is an increasingly popular leisure pursuit in the UK. Recent figures suggest that British gamblers spent a record £13.8bn on gambling in 2015-16, up from £7bn in 2006-7. Gambling is widely available and increasingly popular – opportunities to gamble include high street betting shops and arcades, bingo halls or casinos, and from the comfort of one’s home using electronic devices. The increase of online and offline gambling products, widespread advertising of gambling, and the ease with which individuals can begin gambling are probably evident to everyone.

However, what we don’t know is how gambling is affecting people who are in touch with social work services, or how adults’ services respond to gambling-related harm. We don’t know if gambling is brought to the attention of local authority adults’ services, and/or multi-agency safeguarding services, nor do we have many examples of good practice in supporting those who may have problems with gambling.

‘Gambling-related harm’

Gambling is widely enjoyed as a social activity and most people are not harmed. However, gambling-related harm might be caused by participating in gambling activities, such as betting, bingo, scratch-cards, or fruit machines, and being unable to stop, spending excessively, or finding it addictive. Or, some people may get caught up in gambling scams, where scammers invite them to become involved in lotteries, prize draws, sweepstakes and premium rate, telephone prize scams.

The gambling habits of family, carers, care providers, neighbours, friends, acquaintances, online contacts, or those in positions of trust may also lead adults with care and support needs to experience gambling-related harm.

Media reports have highlighted that gambling can be associated with alleged cases of financial abuse. For example, earlier this year, the Leicester Mercury reported that a home carer took over £14,000 from an elderly in order to fund her gambling addiction.

The Telegraph and Argus also reported that a gambling addict stole over £23,000 from his mother who had dementia.

Such examples suggest that people with care and support needs may be less able to protect themselves from gambling-related harm. We don’t know the extent of this, how to minimise the risks of such harm, or how best to support those affected.

‘Take part in an interview’

If you work in adult social care, we would like to interview you about your opinions and experiences of supporting adults who may be at risk of gambling-related harm. We would also like to talk to practitioners who have supported people who have been affected by the gambling of others. We would like to know whether there are any sources of help or specialist services that social workers would turn to.

The interviews will be in confidence and we would arrange a time and place to talk to you – on the phone, or face-to-face. We are not wanting to talk about individual cases. If you would like to be interviewed, or discuss taking part, please contact:,, or

The study is funded by Ridgeway and has received ethical approval from King’s College London. Stephanie Bramley is Research Associate; Caroline Norrie is Research Fellow and Jill Manthorpe is Director of Social Work and Director of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London.





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