Will argues for the importance of involving people with lived experience of gambling harm in action to reduce those harms.
This is a challenging and uncertain time for everyone. Social distancing means our daily lives and social contact with people is disrupted in an unprecedented way. We are limiting contact with friends and family at just the time when we need those social connections the most.
For the ALLIANCE, whose core aim is to engage people to understand what matters to them and use their expertise to change policy and practice, this situation poses some real dilemmas.
- How do we balance being sensitive to the uncertainty and anxiety people will be feeling with the need to maintain our engagement with people, recognising that this engagement may serve as a valuable distraction?
This challenge is faced just as acutely by the ALLIANCE’s new Scotland Reducing Gambling Harm programme. We know that people face and are facing harm from gambling. This harm presents itself to people in three ways: harm to their mental and physical health; relationships and finances. It will also impact on people’s families and wider community. These harms aren’t going to go away in the era of social distancing, and in many ways could be exacerbated by greater use of some riskier online gambling.
Understanding the impact of these harms on people and devising solutions with them to address these, is essential. There is only one sure way to know what gambling harms people experience, namely, to ask them what impact gambling has had on their lives, the lives of their family and their community.
It can also benefit the people sharing their experiences. It validates what they have been through and can put people in touch with others with similar experiences, which can help make sense of their experiences and develop their views. Differing levels of engagement will be desired by different people and some may wish to contribute by using existing skills; public speaking, chairing meetings, reviewing documents and the like.
Ultimately the purpose of this engagement work is to create changes in current policy and practice that is informed by people’s actual experiences, and is better as a result.
There are always challenges in making this work as strong as possible – how do we ensure that we reach a diverse group of people? How do we make sure we’re reaching the full range gambling harms? How do we know what impact stigma and shame about gambling is having in preventing people coming forward? The current situation adds a further layer to this: how to do meaningful engagement in a time of social distancing?
Crucially these are questions of how to do engagement best. Not questioning the value of engagement in the first place. To drive real, meaningful change we need to be informed by people’s experiences, learn from what works for them, and implement this alongside them.