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Category: Poverty

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Ray Wilkins had clever feet and a clever mind | Brief letters

London’s gang violence | Mo Mowlam | Ray Wilkins | Spring lambs | Easter bunnies | KakuroWhen is someone going to notice that gang violence only occurs where there is acute poverty (Police ‘have lost control of the streets’, 6 April)? Or is that too bi…

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Sunderland offer homeless people shelter from freeze in ‘warm room’

• Club offers hot food and places to sleep at Stadium of Light• North-east hit hard by UK’s brutal weatherSunderland turned a usually quiet corner of the Stadium of Light into a temporary shelter for homeless people on Friday.Acutely conscious that the…

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Rio Olympics: benefit or burden for poor communities in Brazil?

With favela residents complaining of forced evictions, police violence and waste, the jury is out on whether Rio is ready for another major sports event

In August, Rio de Janeiro will welcome athletes and tourists for the first Olympic Games on South American soil. But the preparations have been far from smooth, and human rights campaigners have been particularly concerned about the impact of the Games on Brazilian city’s most vulnerable communities.

Residents of Rio’s favelas have spoken of battles against forced evictions, police violence and wasted spending.

Continue reading…

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England’s poorest spend £13bn on gambling machines

Amount gambled on high-speed machines in deprived boroughs is double that staked in richest areas, report claims

Gambling map of England: get the data

More than £13bn was gambled on high-speed, high-stakes gambling machines by the poorest quarter of England’s population – double the amount staked in the richest areas, according to a study obtained by the Guardian.

The report, to be released next week in parliament, reveals that in the 55 most deprived boroughs of the country – overwhelmingly concentrated in northern cities and urban London – high streets were lined with 2,691 betting shops in which £13bn was gambled or staked on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) by punters, and £470m of that lost, last year.

By comparison, there were 1,258 bookmakers in shopping centres in the 115 richest districts, containing the same population – mainly in rural areas and urban commuter belts – where players staked £6.5bn, losing £231m, in the same 12 months.

The figures, produced by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, appear to show that bookmakers have targeted the poorest areas with the highest unemployment, lowest income levels and higher crime rates. It is a charge the industry vigorously rejects, claiming that shops have clustered only where people are densely concentrated.

There also appears to have been a surge in the number of betting shops in high streets, as profitability from FOBTs offering casino games such as roulette has increased. In December 2013, data culled from local authority records shows 9,343 active betting shop premise licences – an increase of more than 280 licences over the official count by the gambling regulator nine months earlier.

The industry does acknowledge that the distribution of shops mapped by the campaigners is correct, and has hired the same company that did the work for the campaign to produce a similiar chart of Britain for ministers. However, the Association of British Bookmakers says the campaigners can only estimate from averages what the earnings are.

Neil Goulden, who chairs the ABB, said the industry found betting shops in richer areas were eight times more profitable than those in poorer areas. “So you cannot just use average figures to work on profits. Also in richer areas we see higher player participation. We do not target the poor. It is a question of where populations are.”

Critics say the machines are highly addictive and lead to crime and poverty but the gambling industry argues there is no hard evidence to back this claim. This week betting shops launched a new code of conduct to allow players to limit their betting.

About £2.5bn was dropped into the machines in the poorest boroughs, the campaign group’s report suggests, compared with £1.2bn in the richest. The staked or gambling figures are higher because of the way multiple bets are made drawing on winnings.

In the most deprived council – Liverpool – the study suggests £118m was inserted into 570 machines, leading to £636m in bets and the bookmakers taking £23m off punters. However, in the least deprived borough in England – Hampshire’s Hart district, voted consistently the UK’s most desirable place to live for quality of life – there are just seven betting shops, with an estimated two dozen machines.

Such is the concern in Liverpool that the council voted unaminously to be given powers to rein in the spread of bookmakers with the city calling for the ability for councillors to reduce the speed of play and bring down the maximum stake. Nick Small, who represents Liverpool city centre, said millions of pounds that should be used to pay rent or for food was being “sucked into the machines”.

He added: “Bookies are arriving all the time into prime retail locations. This is all driven for FOBTs. I have no doubt of it.We are seeing horrific reports of family breakdown caused by gambling debts, problems with loan sharks. We are pretty sure organised crime is using the machines to launder money. It’s out of control in a city like ours, where there are a lot of poorer people.”

The campaign says bookmakers, essentially five big firms which account for 92% of all high street betting shops, are addicted to the machines’ earning power. According to the analysis the 33,000 FOBTs across the UK produced gross profits of £1.6bn last year.

Such has been the focus on the machines that the industry regulator thinks that FOBTs current claim that there is a mathematical Return To Player (RTP) of 97.3% on roulette – suggesting that the player has a near 100% chance of winning – can be misunderstood.

As David Cameron acknowledged concerns about the machines last month, ministers said they would wait for the conclusion of research – funded by the gambling industry– before considering a reduction in the maximum stake on the machines. But a source who has discussed the matter with Conservative Central Office said the prime minister had put off any major decision until later this year.

What is clear is that bookmakers are more thinly spread in Tory constituencies. When the Guardian analysed the data, the constituencies of the coalition cabinet contained on average just 11 bookmakers, whereas Labour seats had 20. Cameron, Nick Clegg and George Osborne’s constituences together have fewer than half the number of bookies found in the Leeds Central constituency of Hilary Benn – which alone has 39 shops.

Benn said: “These figures show clearly that there is a problem of clustering in poorer areas which government ministers simply don’t get. Indeed, they have made matters worse by making it much easier for new betting shops to open up without having to apply for planning permission.”

“That’s why Labour will give communities the power in future to decide on each individual application so they can determine whether there are too many betting shops in a particular area. We will also give councils the ability to decide how many fixed odds betting terminals there can be in individual shops.”

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport said: “Problem gambling is a serious issue and we are determined to help tackle it. The new player protection code is a positive step in the right direction, but we think more could be done. We want there to be a competitive gambling sector but not at the expense of public protection.

“We are currently reviewing what measures, if any, are needed concerning planning and further protection for those most vulnerable and will report back in the spring.”

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Inside America’s poorest city: ‘You don’t know what’s happening on the way to the baseball park’ – video

‘When I was growing up, there were none of these gangs,’ says Angel Ramos, a coach for the North Camden Little League team and longtime resident of Camden, New Jersey, one of America’s worst-off citiesSteve Patrick Ercolani

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Betting-shop machines sucking cash out of communities … this is what predatory capitalism looks like | Aditya Chakrabortty

While giving councils greater powers to block new gambling shops, it would be better to cut the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals

Midway through our chat, Abbas Marasli rolls off the sofa, yanks up his shirt and shows me a six-inch scar running up his chest. It is seven months old; a permanent reminder of a double heart bypass. Abbas is only 46, but could easily be mistaken as 10 years older. The father of three has lost two businesses, racked up tens of thousands in additional debts, been shunned by brothers and sisters, and gone through a divorce. The root cause of all this stress and misery, he says, is a machine that’s spreading across high streets.

Until last spring, Abbas was addicted to betting terminals. That phrase used to mean fruit machines: clunky things with a lever and a coin slot and loud music. Not any more. Games terminals are now highly sophisticated devices for sucking up customers’ cash. Walk into a bookie today and you’ll be offered virtual roulette or blackjack, the chance to bet £100 every 20 seconds and easy payment by credit card.

It was virtual roulette that Abbas discovered about eight years ago. It soon swallowed up his life. On his way to work, he’d duck into a bookies. Any breaks would be spent running into a William Hill or a Ladbroke’s; likewise on the way home. By the end of one day, he could have spent his week’s wages, then borrowed from friends and family. He once lost £2,000 in 10 minutes; burned through £10,000 of savings in two days. After a bad streak, he’d attack the terminals or bash his head against a wall. At night, “these machines would be in my dreams”.

He describes all this sat under a photo of a daughter’s wedding. How did his family manage? “No holidays, no social life.” They’d borrow cash from relatives just to buy groceries. Abbas’s wife divorced him, only taking him back after he’d undergone therapy for addiction. After she smilingly hands out cups of tea, I’m told she’s still on pills for depression.

Who should bear the blame for the destruction of one man and his family? Abbas, surely, but not only him. After all, when he first arrived from Turkey, he was the archetypal good boy: no booze, no fags and only the occasional go on a slot machine. Things changed when he was introduced to what the industry calls fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBT), and what nearly everyone else refers to as the “crack cocaine of gambling”. These hi-tech machines have been shown to be four times more addictive than anything else available in a bookmakers. “We’ve taken the most dangerous form of gambling there is and placed it in the most accessible place possible – no other country in the world has done that,” says Adrian Parkinson. He should know; a former manager at a betting company, he helped bring FOBTs to Britain.

In effect, Abbas has been preyed upon by a multibillion-pound gambling industry, which was let loose upon him and hundreds of thousands of others by a Labour government. It was Tony Blair and Tessa Jowell who pushed through the Gambling Act in 2005, which took nearly all the caps off the betting industry. At the time, the big worry was of an imminent wave of super-casinos. The fear was completely misplaced. What happened instead was a tsunami of FOBTs: 33,000 of them across the country now, earning £1.5bn profit each year for the bookmakers.

Forget those cosy images of putting a tenner on a nag at Cheltenham or guessing when Walcott will score his second goal: the modern face of betting is FOBTs. The games that ensnared Abbas are one of the big growth areas for the industry: walk into a bookies and you’ll see men – usually young, often from an ethnic minority – staring at an electronic roulette wheel. Because the act perversely limited the number of terminals per shop, but allowed betting companies almost total freedom to set up wherever they wanted, Coral, Betfred and all the rest now set up within yards of each other. Just before Christmas, Shevket Gul, a therapist who works with problem gamblers, drove me along his local high street in a suburb of north London. In a five-minute drive, we counted eight betting shops: multiples of William Hill and Ladbroke’s and others in a recessionary mirror image of the way coffee chains used to sprout up.

This is what predatory capitalism looks like: betting shops with machines designed to suck cash out of communities, run by FTSE firms employing staff on miserly wages, while doing their best to avoid paying tax. Sick of seeing their high streets destroyed, anxious about the spikes in theft and violence, local councils, such as Liverpool and Brighton and Newham in east London, try their best to resist the spread of FOBTs – but are too weak and poor to take on the gambling companies.

This Wednesday, Ed Miliband will call a debate aimed at giving councils greater powers to block new gambling shops. Not a bad start, but it will do nothing about the ones that are already there. Better would be simply to cut the maximum stake on FOBTs from £100 to the norm for gaming machines, which is £2.

The big bookmakers claim to offer normal entertainment. “We’re no different to Gregg’s,” an industry spokesman claimed on ITV last autumn. If that’s the case, why don’t the bookies allow independent researchers to assess the evidence on FOBTs? Instead, most of the research is sponsored – or, rather, neutered – by the industry.

In my talk with Abbas, his son Yusuf has been translating some of the trickier bits. At the end, I ask how the 14-year-old feels about what his father has said. Sat next to his bear of a dad, he looks very small. “How do I explain? Sad and angry. All that money is my family’s future gone. My parents divorced, and why? Because of a machine.”

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