Why all social workers need to think about gambling addiction.

I'm asking all social workers to support me in signing and sharing my petition.
This small simple ask could make such a massive difference.

As both a care leaver and someone that grew up on the streets, for most of my life I'd thought of myself as extremely fortunate and thanked my lucky stars that despite a few cigarettes, I'd never thought of myself as having any other addiction.

That was until around 2009, at the age of 24 after I walked into a betting shop to get dry out of the rain, and had casually inserted one or two coins into the electronic roulette machine and had kept winning, walking out an hour or so later with £500.

Immediately a whole new world had opened up for me. The world of gambling addiction and betting shops, and before I knew it I'd be spending a lot of my time and money in them.

It had gripped me so hard in fact, that I had started to notice how the effects of it were leeching into my every day life. So one weekend, whilst having a gathering with some friends and having developed a form of anxiety that made me feel unable to socialise properly, I headed into my room and laid down on my bed for a moment.

After a few minutes of wondering why my head felt so fuzzy, and having not yet linked it with my gambling addiction, I opened up my laptop and typed in on google 'Inner Conflict'and read through various university and research psychology websites.
That was when I found out about how Dopamine works in the brain, and how gambling machines (now conveniently dubbed 'gaming' machines) can create severe impacts on mental health. Such as in the video below.

In short, I believe that gambling addiction is more widespread than often understood, and is also creating mass mental health and community issues such as Schizophrenia type symptoms, crime, poverty and family breakdown.
It's one of those things that's turning Britain into a mess.
(Article continues below)

(Petition in film no longer running)

It's not only affected my life personally, but many others including a few care leavers I know.
And of course it always has a knock on effect down the line.

During my research I found the whole way that gambling addiction seemed to be discussed in parliament has felt a little corrupt. I feel that many of us have been let down by the same story spinned for years that the government and the gambling industry plan to reduce the stakes on the roulette machines to £2 a spin to help curb gambling addiction, but until they've turned their actions into words then I'm simply not buying it, its been to long.

After spending a few years on the Neuroliberation Campaign , I took a break to write my book about my childhood - Poems From a Runaway.

I spent much of my time and money on campaigning to raise awareness about how widespread gambling addiction was causing a massive impact on our communities, although I didn't have the know how so much to get the word out there as I do today.
So as I still people and families are still being affected by the knock-on effects caused by this, I've decided to try and make a difference again.

I'm asking you all to please sign and share my petition which calls for a small yet much needed efficient change to the way the self-excluding policies work in betting shops.
Currently, once someone has lost control, and all of their money, in order to self exclude they have to go and get two passport photos. This isn't always as realistic as it sounds, especially when you've just lost all of your money.
I am simply proposing that betting shops have small cameras that they can plug into a USB onto the computer system in order for those with gambling problems to be able to self-exclude on-site.
How much is a small camera to take photos with going to cost again? Point taken?

Please sign my petition and help spread it far and wide by sharing the heck out of it. At -

To find out more about what's spurred me on to start campaigning about this again, then you can check out my latest blog post HERE

Adios folks.
Let's make a difference.

The untold stories of young people and gambling addiction. Enough is enough!

We need to take this more seriously, gambling addiction is massive. I've been saying it for years.
Still easily brushed under the carpet, and hidden in plain sight.
It's one of those things that gambling addiction campaigners have been screaming out for years to understand.

Often looked upon as a fool, some misunderstand that those that have found themselves addicted to gambling still have pride. Which is why it is to often easily hidden.
My journey through gambling addiction led me to spend quite a fair bit of time in different betting shops across the UK, and I've seen many different stories.
What hit me most hard was the amount of young people this is happening to. Often people you'd never guess where in so much financial hardship upon first glance when walking past them in thye street.

For those that know me from my new book Poems From a Runaway , you might not know that a few years back I started a campaign to raise awareness of how gambling addiction was getting more widespread in our communities.

I personally had never been into betting shop until 2009 at the age of 24, when I'd walked in with a friend and had never seen the roulette machines before. A week or two after I'd been happening to walk past and had decided to go in simply to walk out of the hard rain for a few minutes.
After looking at the machine I decided to put a couple of pound in simply to entertain myself for a moment.

I didn't even know how to play roulette, and I was making bets with the odds highly against me, but i'd kept winning and winning, and after around an hour or so on the machine I'd won a total of £500.
"You'll be in here tomorrow" the cashier said,. "no I won't I ain't no mug" I replied.
"That's what they all say" he answered back, "you will."

The last time I was in a bookies a young lad that appeared to be no older than twenty-one was explaining to the others in the William Hill shop, how he'd just lost all his money on the roulette in the nearby Paddy Power.
He sat looking lost and hurt in the bookies, head in his hands.

Despite that he still managed to lose the last £60 he had on him, whilst through it I and one other had kept suggesting he go home.
Another two men who were in there stood trying to convince him that they knew what numbers were coming in on the roulette.

I'll re-upload a link to the full documentary soon, which explains not only how the gambling industry and the way it promotes has changed over the last few years, but also it's deeper cognitive impacts on the brain and how it is all affecting our communities in the bigger picture.

What I'm concerned about most that I think we could, and should easily change, are the following two things.

1. Duty of care in betting shops.

I've been in plenty of betting shops. And gambling addiction gets so deeply ingrained that even since taking a break from the campaign I've been in a betting shop a few times putting the odd £2 or £3 on stuff. I know, i know, I should know better right?

But yeah, so many times over the last eight years I've been in a bookies. From both experience and research it seems there is a big division of opinion in how gambling addicts in betting shops should be treated.

I myself have seen too many people being allowed to continue gambling despite showing obvious signs of distress. The young lad I just told you about, why was he still allowed to gambling. That story is certainly not isolated, and it's happened in many many betting shops I've been in.
There has only ever been one that seemed to show care for customers, so thank you Mary if you ever read this!

But this needs to change. Six or seven years ago I was shouting out on the internet "Woah, look whats happening, sometimes soon someone's gonna get hurt when someone comes out of the bookies feeling so psychotic after losing all their money!"

Then what happened? Two OAP's were murdered when a gambling  came out of a betting shop and I think he was trying to rob them.
I've been trying to find the link for it, it's taking a while. But even a quick google search on 'OAP's klled outsde betting shop' reveals a whole list of shocking articles including OAP's going mental at betting shop staff with planks of wood and people being stabbed to death,

Things need to change, and for too many years now politicians have been fooling the public into thinking they are making change by reducing the stakes of the roulette machines. They've been saying the same thing for the last six or seven years and not a single thing has been done about it.
That will be because many of them as explained in my video, have interests in the gambling industry. It's all a bit dodgy.

But yeah, it should be mandatory for betting shops to be fined if they continue to allow a person to gamble after showing obvious signs of distress.
As they are not casino's, there should be limits on how much people can spend in a betting shop per day.

I truly believe that a total daily cap of £100 on gaming machines (Fixed odds betting terminals) and £100 cap on sports betting per day in each betting shop would certainly help eradicate at the very least, some of the most severe gambling addictions that people experience in betting shops.

Not an unrealistic proposal, and it won't eradicate every gambling problem (i'm trying to be progressive here) but it will at least allow those that find themselves wrapped up in the hypnotic state of gambling to be forced to take a much needed break when they hit their limits.
It's not only the money people can lose, but how people find themselves addicted to the simple act of gambling.
And remember it's not just the weak-minded. I'd like to think that living on the streets at least half of my adolescence and not getting a crack or heroin addiction counts for something.

This is the very least, in my opinion, that the gambling industry can do to show a duty of care to our communities. Betting shop staff in whole, are not trained to intervene. This really needs a shake up!

2. Make the self-exclusion policy a realistic policy by ensuring every betting shop has a photo camera.

I and many other people that have experienced gambling problems whilst being in betting shops can tell you, that the self-exclusion policy doesn't currently really work very well at the moment.
Let me just give you a rough breakdown of how it goes.
Let me put you in the shoes of someone in this position.

Your in the bookies, you're hearts racing and you can't believe that yet again that you've lost control and lost almost all of your money again. "I need help" you mutter to yourself before walking up to the desk, still feeling that whoozy feeling you get when you know that you've really messed up.

"I'd like to self-exclude please" you say to the betting shop cashier. In nearly all cases this is the reply that you will get.

"OK what you will need is two copies of a passport sized photo, and then you have to come back and fill out this form". Just take one moment to think about that.

If it hasn't come to mind already, then let me just breakdown how much of a useless self-exclusion policy this really is.
For a start, you've got no money left. Unless you've happened to walk into the betting shop with two spare passport photos or managed to have some lying around in an old suitcase or something, then you're pretty much doomed.

It essentially leaves people enough time to change their minds about self-excluding whilst being distracted by the other knock on effects caused by losing all of their money.
It is a failing policy which is why I am suggesting an easily achievable solution which is the following.

All betting shops with a self-exclusion policy MUST have an in house camera to take photo's there and then to fulfill the needs of those wishing to self-exclude.

Think about it, what is the cost of a little camera that they can use via USB to the computers, just one gambling addict on one day could pay for that alone and that is a sure fact.

This needs to happen to change the way we think and care about those in our communities.

If you're still not convinced that this is a problem that's well worth tackling, then here's a selection of videos from when I was in the thick of my campaigning.

Take care.


How those with open hearts and minds changed my life, and helped make me who I am today.

So in the 1990's, on Piccadilly in London, would have been me. Either wandering around or huddled up in the doorway, during several parts of the year, yo-yo'ing from a life living on the streets and in several foster placements and children's homes.

I'd spent a lot of time living on the streets as a runaway teenager, and I guess it's fair to say that by some point I'd become addicted of my sense of freedom.
Perhaps being moved around between foster placements, sometimes at the last minute, and all the arguing with my mum and her fella, and all the confusion had somewhat troubled me.

By the time I was thirteen, I'd already learned how to survive living on the streets.
Before I'd got confident enough to sit and beg on the streets at 13, I'd be standing outside London tube stations telling passers-by that I was stuck and needed to get home, and asking if they could help, although one time I got pulled by undercover police doing that at Victoria station.

As I think back to my time when I'd probably most got used to living on the streets, the sound of Piccadilly's traffic and the aroma of the then nearby coffee shop comes straight back to me.
Well that was at the point from late 13 probably, when I'd had my long term spot, a big doorway which was the fire exits to both a restaurant and a nightclub, with an air conditioning unit that blew warm air from the nightclub.
In the months leading up to that, I would be found sitting outside tube stations gouching out because I hadn't slept for weeks.. 

But there's a big message in my book Poems From a Runaway, and that's the value of those that stepped out of the general flow of human traffic, to truly reach out to me.
Sure I appreciated the brief meetings with those that would drop me coins or give me notes as I was begging, and thanks to them, but it's not those that I'm referring to.
And before I go on, it's important to remind you that very few I met knew that I was a runaway. 
I always lied about my age, and told a pretty convincing story. So for the sake of this message. for just a few moments let put age aside, and look at it from a soul perspective point of view, because anyone at any age could find themselves where I was.

I was lucky to not dip my feet into the drug world so much. I knew everyone that was around but I'd felt safer at the bottom end of Piccadilly rather than be around Oxford Circus, Tottenham court road and Soho where heroin and crack problems were rife.

But I'm talking those that reached out to me in other ways such as the woman that used to come and play scrabble with me whilst I was sat in the doorway, and those that used to come and chat with me, perhaps even take me out for a bit to eat.

Those sorts of moments were vital, because things had got to a point where those sorts of moments had felt so far away. 
There's many people out there that haven't had those things we take for granted, for a long time.

Not every homeless person might want the company, but it's certainly something to think about. 
Even I had my defenses up when trusting people a lot of the time, simply because there are a lot of sharks out there.

For those with the passion and the resources to help make some magic, we need to see more homeless and non-homeless mingling more among each other, it's a real confidence booster and breath of fresh air. 
Simply to get asked a little bit about yourself is a rare occurrence for many street homeless, but that love shown to people is special.

Big dinners, football matches, a night at a nightclub. surely someone can do something.


You can find Poems From a Runaway on amazon at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1981314350

A great Resource for Social workers, foster parents and homeless support workers?


Obviously I was well chuffed when I saw this on Twitter, I and a few others have also thought it too.
If you don't already know, it's the memoirs of a runaway from the age of nine going through the care system and living on the streets of London at 13.

If work in the following related fields or are passionate about the subjects, you may find Poems From a Runaway a valuable resource in helping families, vulnerable young people and those in care.

Families and relationships, runaways. missing people, family and child psychology, social work, foster care, children's homes, life living on the streets as a teenager, homeless day centers and support services, rough sleeping, mental health, depression, youth workers, youth offending, hostels, support workers, children's rights, advocacy, care leavers, adoption, trauma, therapy, emotional wellbeing, safeguarding, bullying, counselling, domestic abuse. 

My book also sheds a light on:

The positive impacts of music and sport throughout my journey, including whilst sleeping rough.

Predatory behavior., manipulation, exploitation, and the attempts of child grooming made on me.

The world of drug addiction, crime and prostitution that I had been surrounded by.

The certain characters and living angels that made positive impacts in various ways during my experiences. 

As an independent self-published and first-time author it would be fantastic if you could help me spread the word about this book to social workers, support workers, foster parents and the like, by sharing this blog post to let them know about Poems From a Runaway.

You can read 14 of the 60 poems by clicking THIS LINK (opens in new tab)

Find out more about Poems From a Runaway HERE

You can order the full 334 page version from Amazon at the following link.

Perhaps it's important to note that despite some general readers, social workers and support workers giving some great feedback that they've enjoyed the book, I always wanted to write a book that more people would find easy to read and engage with. 
Having put this to the test, I believe this really could be a book that also helps those that perhaps haven't read for a while get back into reading again. 

I'm also selling colour signed copies via the paypal link below ;) 
Thanks for all your support and I hope my book helps people to understand the world of confused kids in care, runaways and missing people.

signed? to? how many?

Do you know any of these people? Help reunite Ben with the real-life characters from his debut true-story book!

Former runaway street-kid seeks reunions with those part of his real-life story from around two decades ago.

Care leaver and former runaway street-kid Ben Westwood is on a mission to reunite with some of the characters featured in his true-story novel in poetry – Poems From a Runaway.

From the age of nine, Ben found himself wandering across Staffordshire and the West Midlands walking from town to town before eventually living on the streets of London at the age of thirteen years old.
Ben also writes about his journey through the care system living with foster parents and in children’s homes, and hopes to reunite with some of the people from his past.

However, not all of the people that had made an impact on Ben’s reality whilst he lived on the streets would have knew that he was a runaway.

“I had told most of the people that I met whilst living on the streets that I was around seventeen to nineteen years old, when in fact I would have been twelve to fifteen.
I thought it was best to not get caught by using a fake name, and they wouldn’t have even known me as Ben” he explains.

“Some of the people that I’d met whilst living on the streets had made a real impact to who I’ve grew up to be. Some really were like real-life angels, and looking back I often think without them poking their noses into my life, how lonely it could have been growing up.

Featured in his book and hoping to reunite with them are the following.

A nurse from Great Haywood in Staffordshire, that had picked Ben up one morning after it had rained and he decided to give himself up whilst being missing for two days.
He wants to say thanks!

A Londoner from the east end, that had fell victim to Ben’s need to cure boredom after he’d found a free dateline number and for a joke had pretended to be a woman from London.
However the prank had got out of hand after one guy had sent a voice message back and Ben actually got the man to wait outside for ‘her’ at a train station.

Ben saw the man waiting outside of Bow Road station and ended up claiming to be the non-existent woman’s brother and saying she had sent him to meet her because she was stuck.
After boarding a bus with him and chatting, he eventually ran off no explanation.
Ben wants to apologise to the man and possibly have a chinwag and a laugh about it.

He also wants to give a special thanks to one particular member of staff from a children’s home he lived at in Staffordshire.
“I’d really like to say a massive thanks to Adrian, one of the staff that had invested his time into teaching me to play guitar.
I think he was from Stafford or maybe Stoke-on-trent, I can’t quite remember, but he appeared to me in a dream a year or so ago and I’d really like to say thanks to him, he’s a top geezer”

Featured on a 7news video in Miami, Ben is also trying to find a family from Plantation in Florida.
Whilst being around fourteen years old and sleeping rough near Green Park underground station, Ben met a family that befriended him, brought him clothes and invited him back to their hotel for hot showers and food.

It was indeed a special moment for him, on the day the family left for their taxi back to the airport.
With the mother of the family crying and stating to Ben that meeting him had made her holiday more worthwhile than visiting the tourist attractions, it was indeed a memory that he finds hard to forget.

Despite his story being somewhat tragic at times, it wasn’t without it’s comedic moments and short-lived romances too.
“I do feel really bad for the three of the four girls I’d briefly dated during my time living on the streets. Only one of them ever knew my true age and the others were all adults, whilst I was around fourteen or fifteen.
It wasn’t that I’d intended to lie about my age, just that I didn’t want to get caught or dobbed in as a runaway” he states.

Ben would like to give his apologies to at least two of the women, who would be in their late thirties by now.
One was a student nurse studying in Nottingham, and living by the Nottingham Forest football stadium at the time. He met her online in Yahoo chat rooms whilst Ben would escape from the cold weather inside 24hr internet cafes.

He also wrote a poem about meeting a girl from Nuneaton whilst sleeping rough on London’s Piccadilly.
His poem hints at him laughing at his memory in hindsight, whilst describing that she fled out of the hotel window after ordering him to go into the shower as he’d not washed for weeks.

He goes on to explain -“She had light red hair and I might be wrong but perhaps some mild learning difficulties. She’s said she was from Nuneaton I think, although it’s possible I’ve had a miss memory and got it mixed up with Sutton Coldfield. I really need to clear this one up or I’ve made a huge error in my book.
She was nineteen when we met and would be in her late-thirties by now.

Ben had also met Matt and James, two members of the band ‘Busted’ after they had taken him off the street into their hotel one night shortly before they were famous and has written a poem about it inside the book. He would love to say hello and confess that he was a runaway!

Last but not least, an Australian hairdresser working in Mayfair at the time.
She took Ben in when he was around late-fourteen but before he knew it, he’d got himself wrapped up in a double bluff.

The Australian woman’s name is Lia, and Ben believes she may have told him that she was from Melbourne.
She’d befriended Ben whilst he was begging and sleeping rough on London’s Piccadilly, and invited him to stay on the sofa at their house.

Ben didn’t tell Lia that he was a young runaway, but to stop her housemates worrying about picking someone up from the streets she’d asked him to tell them he was the handyman at her hairdressers.
After a few days it was revealed that Lia had taken Ben off the street, but none of them ever knew the true story that he was a runaway.

He states Lia and her friends that lived in Cricklewood were an important part in shedding some light and warm moments in what was otherwise a lonely and confusing time for him growing up.

If you think you may know any of the people featured in ‘Poems From A Runaway’ or this article, or can help reunite Ben with them then you can email him directly at BenWestwoodUK@gmail.com

Ben is also currently accepting media coverage requests.