Mark Jenkinson is the Conservative MP for Workington. This is a sponsored post by the Betting and Gaming Council.
This time next week, the UK is going to look very different. As Boris Johnson has confirmed, July 19 will be “Freedom Day”, when the remaining Covid-19 restrictions will finally be lifted.
After 18 months in which the Government has exerted unprecedented control over our day-to-day lives, we will finally be free to meet as many people as we want to indoors, attend mass gatherings and even use public transport without wearing a face mask, if we so choose.
Of course, with the virus still circulating – and cases are continuing to rise – we will still be expected to act sensibly and cautiously, which is as it should be. We Conservatives firmly believe in personal responsibility, after all. But thanks to the UK’s tremendous vaccination programme, the link between case numbers, hospitalisations and deaths appears to have been broken. It’s impossible to remove all risk from every facet of our lives, so now it’s time for us all to learn to live with the virus, not live in fear of it.
Having our freedoms restricted by politicians – even ones we voted for – is not a long-term solution to any problem. Put simply, I firmly believe people should be trusted to get on with their lives and act in a sensible way that does no harm to themselves or pose a danger to others.
That is why I have grave concerns about calls by some anti-gambling campaigners that limits should be placed on how much individuals should be allowed to bet. As the MP for Workington, I know for a fact that working class voters do not like being told what to do by Westminster. This was borne out by recent YouGov polling, which found that a majority of British voters believe politicians should not set arbitrary limits on how much they are able to bet.
Furthermore, focus groups mainly carried out in Red Wall seats like mine found that voters are wary of post-Covid mission creep, with the threat of the state seeking to impose more control on people’s lives. They thought things like so-called “affordability checks” on betting were part of a culture war on their way of life, with having the occasional flutter viewed as a normal leisure pastime. I consider myself an irregular, responsible gambler – with many of my constituents the same, whether it’s the football, racing or the dogs.
If you think that such opinions are over-the-top, just consider the fact that the Government is ploughing ahead with plans to ban TV junk food adverts before 9pm. To my mind, this is an example of the nanny state gone mad. Reports suggest that advisors are recommending the introduction of a “salt tax”, and environmental campaigners are looking for a “meat tax” – I fear that civil servants are listening to them.
As a father of young children, I of course don’t want them to be eating a non-stop diet of unhealthy food. But it should be my responsibility as a parent to ensure that they enjoy a varied and healthy diet – it shouldn’t require Government intervention to make sure they eat well. People have looked to the state for permission for everything for the last 16 months, and that is going to be difficult enough for Conservatives to roll back, if we put ourselves in loco parentis by default it will only end badly.
I fully support the Gambling Review currently being carried out by the Government. It’s 16 years since the passing of the 2005 Gambling Act, so a fresh look at how the regulated betting and gaming industry has evolved since then is long overdue.
However, it’s vital that ministers get the balance right between protecting the vulnerable while ensuring that the millions who enjoy a flutter safely and responsibly are able to do so without being forced into the hands of the unregulated and unsafe black market, which has none of the safer gambling measures found in the regulated industry.
As the country finally emerges from the pandemic, and the Treasury sets about repairing the financial damage done by Covid, it’s also vitally important the economic contribution made by the regulated betting and gaming should not be put at risk. According to a report by Ernst and Young, in 2019 that amounted to supporting 119,000 jobs, generating £4.5 billion in tax and contributing £7.7 billion in gross value added.
The post-pandemic world will, in many ways, look very different to what we knew before. But the importance of politicians giving people the freedom to behave as they see fit, within the parameters of the law – and doing nothing to stifle economic growth – should remain.