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Qualitative follow-up interviews with participants from the Gambling Survey Experimental Phase

We have refined new survey questions aimed at collecting better data on the experience of gambling-related harms in the upcoming Gambling Survey for Great Britain.

Experience and understanding of ‘occasional’ harms

In the survey, respondents were presented with a range of gambling-related harms and asked to indicate whether they had experienced these ‘never’, ‘occasionally’, ‘fairly often’ or ‘very often’ in the past year. This section will discuss participants’ experience of harms which they indicated that they had experienced ‘occasionally’.

Experiences of ‘occasional’ harms

Participants’ experiences of ‘occasional’ harm varied in terms of both frequency and impact(s). Participants described ‘occasional’ harms using a variety of frequencies, with some experiencing these harms multiple times per month while others experienced these harms once in the last year. There was also variation in the ways in which these harms had impacted participants’ lives. So far as possible (within the confines of the data), this section will explore how participants experienced each of the harms in the survey on an ‘occasional’ basis. 9 The next section will then discuss broader findings on the use of the ‘occasionally’ response, which apply to all harms.

Reducing or cutting back spending on everyday items such as food, bills and clothing

Some participants who ‘occasionally’ cut back on everyday spending due to their own gambling explained that they had cut back on ‘treats’, regular socialising or eating out, rather than day-to-day necessities.

“Obviously I've always got food and drink in the house, but there would be times where I'd want a treat but then I'd blow my treat money.”

Male participant aged 18 to 34 years old who experienced harm related to their own gambling.

While some participants felt the impact of this harm was minimal, there were also some feelings of isolation, stress and frustration, particularly when participants were unable to socialise due to financial constraints. In one case, stress was worsened due to the participant’s earlier experiences of gambling – in this case, small-scale cutting back triggered feelings of worry from when financial harms had been more significant.

Some participants who ‘occasionally’ reduced their own spending as a result of someone else’s gambling described similar experiences, cutting back on socialising and “extras” such as takeaway coffees. The impacts of this harm tended to be described in terms such as “annoying”, or even “not significant”.

Other participants (including those impacted by their own and/or someone else’s gambling) also reduced their day-to-day spending on food and other groceries. One participant explained that cutting down on socialising and eating out (due to their own gambling) had progressed to selecting cheaper necessities as their spending on gambling increased. While this participant found the experience (occurring around once every 2 to 3 months) stressful, they felt it did not “dominate” their life. However, another participant who reduced their food spending every 4 to 6 months (after loaning money to an adult child), felt unable to stop worrying about how they would support themselves after having to make cutbacks. While the experience was less frequent, the scale of cutting back led to a greater impact on wellbeing.

“I suppose the bigger thing was what I buy foodwise. It was very much having to just go to Asda, buy what was reduced and pretty much make up batches of soup because that was the cheapest thing that was healthy that I could eat.”

Female participant aged over 55 years old, who experienced harm related to someone else’s gambling.

Use of savings or borrowing money

Generally, participants felt that ‘occasional’ use of their savings or borrowing had not had a large impact on their life. The level of impact related to the amount of money used and/or borrowed and whether this required the participant to reduce spending in other areas. For example, some participants explained that the use of their savings (due to their own or someone else’s gambling) did not have a significant impact because the amounts of money were small and their income allowed them to maintain the same level of day-to-day spending.

However, there were some examples of negative impacts. One participant, who borrowed money from friends (due to their own gambling) felt this had caused him some anxiety and other negative feelings. However, this was minimal due to the small sums borrowed and the participant’s ability to pay friends back on time.

Some participants described feeling angry or frustrated with themselves after using savings for their own gambling when this required them to reduce spending in other areas (such as socialising). Another participant reflected that while the impact of using their savings "wasn't overly severe" they had to work longer hours to ensure they made up the money (which was earmarked for specific family and/or life events).

“It [using savings] didn't have an impact on me in a massive way. It was just frustration, anger, irritation.”

Male participant aged 35 to 54 years old who experienced harm relating to their own gambling.

Experience of conflict or arguments with family or friends

Some participants experienced conflict or arguments with family and friends ‘occasionally’ related to their own gambling. These conflicts occurred when friends and family challenged participants’ gambling habits or expressed concerns about the participant gambling or borrowing money. Participants who experienced ‘occasional’ conflict related to the gambling of others described similar situations but also experienced conflict with other friends or family members who disagreed with the participant providing loans or money to cover gambling losses.

All occasions of conflict were felt to cause some level of emotional and/or social impact. Some participants whose gambling was the subject of the conflict felt stressed or negative about causing worry. Participants who experienced conflict related to their gambling or someone else’s gambling also felt this had impacted the quality of their relationships. In particular, conflict reduced their ability to speak openly with friends and/or family about the gambling-related harms they experienced. Some participants felt that ultimately the conflict had been constructive in encouraging them to reduce their gambling. However, the immediate impact of the conflict on their relationships was negative.

“I think it was sort of them [friends] looking out for my own good really, more than anything else. It wasn't like a screaming match, it was more constructive but still conflictive, essentially.”

Male participant aged 18 to 34 years old, who experienced harm relating to their own gambling.

Lying to family, or others, to hide the extent of gambling behaviours

Participants who had ‘occasionally’ lied to family or others had done at varying frequencies (multiple times per month to a few times per year) in order to hide the extent of their gambling activity or the gambling of someone else. Some participants also included situations where they did not feel that they had “lied” but had taken action to hide the true extent of the gambling (such as avoiding certain conversations or questions). In one case, the participant did not feel that hiding the extent of gambling behaviours of a family member ‘occasionally’ was very impactful because their relationships remained positive.

“I couldn't quite say it has no effect on me, everything is fine, and we're all happy families, etc., but yes, it does, but it is occasional.”

Male participant aged over 55 years old who experienced harm related to someone else’s gambling.

However, other participants suggested that their ‘occasional’ experience of this harm was impactful for two reasons:

‘Occasional’ experiences included situations where participants consistently felt unable to share the extent of gambling behaviours with others. Some participants explained that they were not truthful with family or friends about the extent of their own or someone else’s gambling every time they spoke with them. This included close friends and family (for example, parents). However, due to the frequency of contact this only happened ‘occasionally’. This could negatively impact how participants felt about the quality of their relationships with those who did not know about the extent of the gambling.

‘Occasional’ experiences included hiding significant losses or other gambling-related harms from close friends or family. Participants felt that they were particularly likely to conceal a significant loss if they anticipated a negative reaction or had spent shared money (resulting in their partner or family also being financially impacted).

Feelings of isolation from other people, being left out or completely alone

Participants who ‘occasionally’ felt isolated from other people experienced this feeling in a small number of specific situations. For one participant (who experienced harms related to their own gambling), this was during conversations with friends who spoke negatively about gambling. For another participant (who experienced harm related to a partner’s gambling), conversations with their friends and family triggered feelings of isolation because they did not share the same views about their partner’s gambling. The participant’s family felt that their partner’s gambling was problematic and suggested that actions should be taken. The participant did not want to address their partner’s gambling, which made them feel distanced and isolated from their family and friends offering opinions and advice.

Understanding and use of the ‘occasionally’ response option

Participants had mixed views on the experience of placing their harms on the four-point scale (‘very often’, ‘fairly often’, ‘occasionally’ and ‘never'). Some participants found it difficult to choose between the response options as the frequency of harm fluctuated throughout the year or were uncertain about which frequency of harm to ascribe to each option. Other participants were more confident in their choice of response option and had assigned (different) specific periods of time that they felt best reflected each option.

In the experimental phase survey report10 it was highlighted that: “the actual impact of occasionally experiencing each harm is unclear. These may represent fairly minor harms for some or […] could indicate the potential for harm rather than the experience of it.” This research demonstrates that a variety of impacts (including fairly minor and more serious experiences) can be captured under ‘occasional’ harm.

The use of the ‘occasionally’ option covered harms that occurred with some regularity, but which the participant did not consider frequent or serious enough to be covered by the ‘fairly often’ response. However, participants expressed different views about what level of frequency and seriousness should be considered ‘occasional’. These perceptions were informed by a number of factors, including participants’ earlier experiences of gambling harms. Use of the ‘occasionally’ option also covered harms which were very infrequent (such as “one-offs”, isolated or irregular events), because this was the lowest frequency of harm available to select. Some participants experiencing this level of harm felt that an additional response option between ‘never’ and ‘occasionally’ (such as ‘rarely’) would have more accurately captured their experience. Some participants particularly struggled to recall their experience of these harms.11

Some ‘occasional’ harms discussed by participants had very minimal impacts on their lives, perhaps causing only some “annoyance” or “frustration” which affected them for a short amount of time. When discussing reducing spending on non-essential everyday items, some participants also expressed impact in terms such as “not significant”.

In some cases, participants were clear that ‘occasional’ experience of a harm was less impactful than a harm experienced ‘fairly or very often’. For example, one participant had previously lived with a family member who gambled and described the harms they experienced during that period as being ‘fairly or very often’ and more severe. Since moving out of the house, the participant described experiences of harm as ‘occasional’ and less impactful, reflecting that "it doesn't affect me on a day-to-day basis". It is notable that gambling-related harms still dominated this participant’s relationship with the family member – however, the frequency and impact of the harms had reduced in line with the reduction in day-to-day contact.

In other cases, participants explained that the distinction between their ‘occasional’ and more frequent harms captured only the frequency of the harm rather than the impact. For example, one participant felt that an ‘occasional’ harm (borrowing money a few times a year) and a harm experienced ‘fairly often’ (hiding the extent of gambling weekly or monthly) impacted them similarly in terms of anxiety and other negative feelings.

Harms which occur ‘occasionally’ can have more significant and long-term impacts if the level of harm is particularly high (for example, irregular loaning of large amounts of money or consistently concealing gambling behaviours through ‘occasional’ dishonesty). While the more impactful ‘occasional’ harms discussed by participants in this research tended to occur with some kind of regularity (for example, once every few months), the findings also demonstrate that very infrequent or “one-off” harms have the potential to be impactful. For example, one significant loan can result in daily cut-backs until the affected person is able to make up the shortfall.

There were also examples of participants experiencing more regular ‘occasional’ harms (for example, once a month) who felt minimally impacted. Altogether, this demonstrates that there is not always a direct relationship between frequency and impacts of harms.

Factors which influenced participants’ interpretation of the option ‘occasionally’

While participants generally understood the response options as a frequency scale and selected their response based on how often the harm occurred, the category labels (for example, ‘occasionally’) allowed for some interpretation. Participants’ interpretations of ‘occasionally’ were influenced by several factors.

Experience at the time of completing the survey

Although survey respondents were asked to reflect on the gambling harms that they experienced within the last 12 months, some interview participants felt they were influenced by their most recent experiences. This was particularly the case where the frequency of gambling harms varied throughout the year. For example, one participant who had not needed to borrow money for a couple of months felt they focused on this experience rather than an experience earlier in the year when they borrowed money multiple times within a short period of time. Other participants found it difficult to recall specific scenarios in the past or preferred to focus on recent months because their experience of gambling-related harms had been lower.

Comparison with and/or impact of past experiences

Some participants had experienced gambling-related harms for an extended period of time, sometimes for decades before completing the survey. Participants reported comparing the impacts they had experienced in the past 12 months to older experiences when they were determining which response options to select. Participants described selecting the response option ‘occasionally’ if they had experienced comparatively more significant impacts in the past (for example, 10 years ago). Past experiences also impacted participants’ recall when completing the survey. For example, although they could not recall a specific incidence of borrowing money in the past year, one participant selected ‘occasionally’ for this question as it had happened frequently over previous years.

Proximity to harm

It was suggested that participants who were impacted by someone else’s gambling may use a different frame of reference depending on whether they live with the person who gambles. If they see the person every day, ‘occasional’ experiences may be more frequent (such as a few times a month) because the experience of the harm is considered in the context of day-to-day life. If they do not see the person every day, experience of the harm may be governed by how often they see the person who gambles – it is more likely in these circumstances that ‘occasional’ harm (for example, conflict or suffering financial harms) could capture every interaction that they have with the person who gambles.

“If I lived with someone I would think of occasional might be maybe once or twice a month that something has affected me whereas my context is different. I don't live with the individual [father], but I might find that every time I saw that person it might be an issue for me, so therefore I'd still say it's occasional.”

Female participant aged over 55 years old who experienced harm related to someone else’s gambling.

Personal feelings about gambling behaviour

Some participants who experienced harm related to their own gambling felt they selected the response option ‘occasionally’ because (at the time of the survey) they did not appreciate or acknowledge the frequency and/or severity of the harms. These participants had generally reduced their gambling since the survey and felt they had greater clarity on the severity of their earlier experiences. Some of these participants felt they would now select the response option ‘fairly often’ or ‘very often’ to capture the harms they stated were ‘occasional’ at the time. In other cases, certain words in the survey questions (for example, “lie” and “conflict”) triggered negative feelings or images of a harm that participants did not feel they had experienced. Altogether, this demonstrates that interpretation of the term ‘occasionally’ can be guided by the respondent’s overall feelings about their experience of gambling.

Participants described opting for the response option ‘occasionally’ when they felt there were other non-gambling-related factors at play in their experience of harm. Participants felt that external factors made it difficult to place their experience of harm on a scale because they were unsure if their experience of harm (for example, cutting back on day-today spending) was solely related to gambling (compared to other factors such as employment status). This uncertainty led some participants to select ‘occasionally’. For example, one participant was not confident that they had reduced their spending solely because of gambling given the ongoing cost of living crisis.

“There were other factors going on at the time as well as the gambling. So it was trying to pick out how much of it was definitely down to the gambling.”

Male participant aged 35 to 54 years old, who experienced harm related to their own gambling.

Use of the response ‘occasionally’ across different survey questions

Participants generally interpreted the response options similarly across the different harm-related questions and applied the same rationale when selecting their answers. In some cases, participants had clear frequency-based definitions of the response option which led to consistent responses. However, other participants were also influenced by wider factors (for example, broader feelings about their experience of the harm). While it is clear that this could lead to different frequencies being ascribed to different ‘occasional’ harms, there were no clear patterns related to particular survey questions.


9All harms are included separately aside from being absent or performing poorly at work or study. Unfortunately, there was not sufficient data to draw any specific conclusions on this harm. While every effort was made to ensure that participants had experienced a range of ‘occasional’ harms, some harms (particularly financial harms) were more prominent in the final sample. There were also situations where participants struggled to recall a particular harm, given the length of time between the interview and survey completion.

10Gambling participation and the prevalence of problem gambling survey: Experimental statistics stage.

11Participants recall may have been impacted by the time period between the survey and follow-up interview.

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Qualitative GSGB Experimental Statistics Phase: Interrelation of different harms due to gambling
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