Today marks the launch of Gambling Awareness Month. One entire month that I am going to dedicate to raising awareness of the problems that gambling can cause for individuals and their families.
Many of you will think about gambling as the occasional flutter, that weekly lottery ticket or that once in a while bet that might, but probably won't win big.
The truth is, gambling is on the increase. In 2015 we spent £112m more on gambling than we did in the year previous and the amount of advertising for it has risen by 600% since gambling laws were relaxed in 2005. The heavy prevalence of betting shops on the high street in deprived areas and a boom in online gambling have led to a rising number of addicts, more than the industry's own figures ever report and more than the industry-funded support systems are able to help.
Services such as GamCare try and place a focus on individuals reaching out for help themselves.
However, with this hidden addiction it is difficult to understand that you have a problem until it is often too late. Gambling does not show the signs of a physical addiction, unlike drugs and alcohol, so can be very hard to spot if it is taking hold in your family. That's exactly what happened with my dad - it was only after he had been on a 'work training course' which actually turned out to be a court appearance that we discovered he had a 30-year gambling addiction. He gambled away our house and hundreds of thousands of pounds in secret, all in a desperate bid to rescue the financial mess he'd made and to put it all right. Dangerous free bet adverts and thousands of e-mails enticed him, along with a lack of keeping track to make sure his gambling was affordable.
We want the law to change, to limit the amount of advertising and the ease of access to these products and we will continue in our family's plight for change.
Today, I can reveal exclusively that homeless charities adequate resources and support for those with a gambling addiction.
I can reveal today that we have found out that leading homeless charities do not have the adequate resources to support or refer vulnerable people with a gambling addiction. I also discovered that there is little awareness of the addiction within this sector. As such, the most vulnerable people in society are susceptible to this problem and are not getting the help they need. We will be pursuing this line of enquiry in March and will release a report on gambling addiction and homelessness at the end of the month.
This month we dedicate to raising awareness about the dangers of gambling addiction and we will provide help, support and share stories to show that gambling isn't always just bright lights and fruit machines. It is a serious addiction, which affects the endorphins in your brain in the same way as drugs and alcohol. It's time we place gambling on the same stage and identify how it plays its part in society.