Tom Watson: Regulation has to catch up with the modern world and hold ‘big tech’ and gambling to account

Posted On: 
21st September 2018

The cost to society of problem-gambling could be in the region of £1.2bn. But parts of the industry have ignored this issue for far too long, writes Tom Watson

"There are an estimated 430,000 people with a gambling problem in the UK, with a further two million at risk of developing one."
Credit: 
PA

There is a reason that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is sometimes referred to as the Ministry of Fun. Between the arts, music, cutting-edge technology, elite and community sports, most of the things that the department has oversight on are the things that make all our lives worth living.

But as Labour’s shadow secretary of state for DCMS I’m very aware that as well as all the fun, the department has some very important responsibilities – ensuring access to arts and culture is equal across the country, making sure that tech companies take responsibility for their platforms, and ensuring that regulation of industries like gambling is suitable.

Fair gambling regulation has been, and continues to be, one of our top priorities. There are an estimated 430,000 people with a gambling problem in the UK, with a further two million at risk of developing one. Our services need to be better equipped to treat those with gambling problems.

Currently there is a real lack of specialist treatment on the NHS for problem gamblers. Much of this is provided through a voluntary levy from industry which raises around £10m per year. To put that into context, the IPPR believes the cost to society of problem-gambling could be in the region of £1.2bn.

That’s why I commissioned, with Labour’s shadow health team, a review of how we treat those who suffer from problem-gambling on our NHS. Parts of the industry have ignored this issue for too long, so the first step is to bring in a compulsory levy which ensures adequate funding for the treatment of people suffering with gambling problems.

The government’s failure to address the real problems facing people also stretches to the oligopolistic power of the big tech giants. I believe we have reached a tipping point in this country where people are really starting to wake up to the domineering, anti-market practices of the big tech platforms.

Google’s YouTube is now the number one streaming site for music and video, making £160bn off the back of creators, and yet artists and creators are totally ripped off.

There are also serious questions surrounding advertising on platforms like Facebook during the EU referendum, but our existing regulatory framework is patchy and unable to take firm action. It’s time this was sorted out through a new, single tech regulator with proper authority to redress these huge imbalances of power that are setting a dangerous precedent for the future of the tech industry.

As well as proper regulation for tech, it’s vital that we prioritise protecting public interest journalism, especially local journalism, which has been severely affected by the growth of free online outlets and the concentration of advertising online. There are now 6,000 fewer journalists and 300 fewer local titles than 10 years ago. Local democracy and accountability suffers as a result and it is imperative that we find a more sustainable model for local press.

Once we have tackled some of the big issues facing journalism, tech giants and gambling, it’s also important to remember the importance of the department for DCMS in promoting community cohesion and inclusion. Arts and sport have the power to bring people together and bridge divides. It’s important that these industries reflect our whole country, not just elite parts of it, and Labour is determined to see that happen.

Sport also has a very important physical benefit in society, in increasing activity levels and promoting better diets, which is crucial in the battle against the high levels of obesity throughout the country. Activity levels in primary and secondary schools are going down and now one third of all primary school kids are leaving school obese. For the sake of our children and our NHS, this must be tackled.

All of these issues are of real importance to our country, particularly during this period of change and uncertainty as we head towards leaving the EU. We must make the most of the opportunities for inclusion, creativity and cohesion that digital, culture, media and sport provides, and Labour is determined to do that.   

Tom Watson is Labour MP for West Bromwich East and shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport