For the last 18 months we have had a dedicated task force set up, with representatives from across the organisation and partners, who have been working to better understand harmful gambling, the effect it has, how big the problem is in our borough, and what we need to put in place to tackle it.
Local residents who battle gambling addictions are also part of this group. It has given us vast insight into the problem and enabled them to shape this journey with us.
Work has included upskilling our teams, rolling out training for frontline staff who work directly with our residents, encouraging them to spot the signs someone may have an issue, and a number of local campaigns raising awareness of harmful gambling.
A gambling addiction can lead to a number of scenarios including debt, homelessness, deteriorating mental health, and most tragically, suicide. We found by including it in our conversations, we were getting to the root cause of some of these issues with our residents, and realised we needed to be one step ahead with prevention.
As a large employer we are committed to caring for the health and wellbeing of our staff, and want to promote a culture where colleagues feel able to speak up and seek the help and support they need.
It became clear we were offering support around mental health, alcohol, domestic violence, among other things, but had a huge gap when it came to gambling. We have around 4,000 staff, with 80% of them living in the borough.
The harmful gambling workplace charter is a framework between unions and employers, launched by Unite last year.It encourages businesses to offer support to any employee who is experiencing gambling related harms.
Signing the charter demonstrates our commitment to supporting our staff with their health and wellbeing when it comes to the impact gambling may be having.
This may be signposting or referring someone to support services or giving them initial advice and guidance around responsible gambling and where to seek help, such as through Wigan’s harmful gambling treatment provider, Beacon Counselling Trust.
Key members of staff and union representatives have been trained to offer this support and this will be rolled out wider to service managers, before eventually being offered to all staff.
As part of our work, alongside the charter and in partnership with the trade unions, we’ve developed an internal harmful gambling policy, with guidance for all managers about what conversations they could have with their staff and how they can encourage someone to access help. Support may be a combination of external and internal, for example the employee seeking help through external services along with internal support for time off to do so.
Along with covering the definition of harmful gambling and the impact it could have, the policy also includes how to spot the signs of a problem and guidance for employees that includes a screening tool they can use anonymously.
The policy recognises that each situation may be different and is centred around three key principles: care, consult, consider, to ensure support for any employee who speaks up about themselves or others.
The guidance sets out what managers can do to support their employee, what the employee can do to support themselves and what they can do together, and is underpinned by the council’s core behaviours: positive, accountable, courageous.
It also links to wellbeing initiatives such as ‘MyTime’ regular conversations between employees and managers, ‘a ‘Let’s Stay Connected’ toolkit to support teams to come together, and a wellbeing champion network.
We are proud to be leading this work with our trade unions and supporting our staff and residents in this way.
Harmful gambling can often go unnoticed due to fear of shame or resistance to acknowledge a problem, but by developing these policies and including it in regular conversations with our staff we hope we can break any stigma and help people recognise the signs of it being an issue.
Alison Mckenzie-Folan is chief executive of Wigan MBC