Financially desperate Britons are increasingly turning to gambling as a “quick fix” as wealth levels fall to historic lows, a study suggests.
The annual LifeSearch Health, Wealth and Happiness Index compiled by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) fell 11% over the last year to lows not seen since the height of the pandemic.
The wealth index fell to the lowest level since 2013, with 52% of people feeling worse off than they did a year ago.
Almost one in three Britons (29%) have had to raid their savings over the past year to cover rising living costs, one in 12 (8%) have had to ask their families for money and one in 10 (11%) have been forced to take on more debt, a survey for the study found.
The figures show a stark increase in gambling on a year ago, when around a third of people said they had gambled at least once over the past year, spending an average of £43 a month.
Almost 1.5 million people (3%) this year admitted they had turned to gambling as a “quick fix” solution to their financial problems, upping either the frequency or the amount they gamble or both in the past 12 months and spending an average of £268 more each month.
Men are twice as likely to be gambling more now than they were a year ago, while younger people are also more at risk and are already more likely to gamble in the first place.
Last year, 46% of 18 to 34-year-olds said they gambled – significantly higher than the UK average of 32%.
Additionally, one in 20 (5%) under-35s are gambling more compared to just one in 100 (1%) people aged 55 and over.
Ministers are undertaking the most comprehensive review of gambling laws in 15 years to ensure they are fit for the digital age following an explosion in online betting and a string of high-profile cases where customers have suffered huge losses or taken their own lives.
Gambling companies are to be forced to step up checks on punters “to better protect even those unable to afford small losses” under plans to tackle addiction announced in last month’s gambling white paper.
Plans also include maximum stakes for online slot machines of between £2 and £15 for all customers subject to consultation and a new statutory levy which will see gambling companies required to fund more groundbreaking research, education and treatment.
Emma Walker, chief growth officer at LifeSearch, said: “Many people have had to adjust their spending to cope with the soaring cost of living, with 29% forced to use their savings while others feel they have cut back so much that they have run out of options, which is perhaps why – in desperation – many are turning to gambling to find a ‘quick fix’, made so much easier by the multitude of online gambling options now available.
“Our research shows that men and younger people are most at risk. Under-35s are more likely to gamble in the first place, more likely to have upped their habit in the past year and spend more than other age groups.
“This is a very worrying trend because, while gambling may be seen as a magic solution, it is much more likely to make a financial situation worse, and with easy access to bets and other gambling via mobile phone apps, it can easily spiral out of control.
“And while there is no quick fix, when finances are uncertain, it is important for people to look at protecting themselves and their families financially – putting the right insurances in place can give peace of mind from any future financial shocks that may impact their income.”
A Government spokesperson said: “Millions of people gamble safely. However, there are too many cases of addiction and catastrophic financial loss.
“That’s why we’re committed to protecting those at risk of gambling harm by taking forward new measures outlined in our Gambling White Paper last month.
“This includes player protection checks, a levy on gambling operators to pay for treatment, education and research and online slot stake limits to prevent runaway losses.”
Opinium surveyed 3,006 UK adults between April 4-10.