A report today by the BBC has claimed that the current cost of living crisis is being used to prey on vulnerable young people. Former gang members and anti-gang activists have stated that the rise of cost of living is currently being used to expand recruitment for county lines. These are drug dealing networks that connect urban and rural areas, namely through phone lines. It’s a short and cruel practice.
If someone wants an illegal substance, typically heroine or crack cocaine; gang networks use “runners”. Runners are often young vulnerable children who trace dedicated mobile phone lines and travel across the UK to store and transport the drugs from the dealers to the users.
Cost of living crisis
Co-founder of charity Refocus, Lennox Rogers explained to the BBC that the “cost of living crisis has had an impact on county lines, it’s made it easier.”
Lennox added that “people are more willing to consider earning money illegally because they can’t get money and so the kind of people, they [the gangs] can target, there’s more.”
Notably Lennox stated that an increased demographic of children being used for county lines are illegal refugee children who “can’t afford meals and some of these gang members have come from poorer background – they know how and how to target young people.” Such children are typically more vulnerable as they have no recourse to public funds.
Lennox and other anti-gangs trafficking activists have noted an uptick of young people entering county lines for necessities such as for food or assisting their families who are in persistent financial difficulties, as the cost-of-living crisis worsens.
An additional concern related to the increase of vulnerable drug users during the cost-of-living crisis. Lennox discussed that he has seen an uptick in drug users becoming vulnerable to “cuckooing”; the practice of gangs turning a drug users’ home into a base for drug dealing and other illegal activities.
He stated that because of the increase rise of people who simply cannot afford to heat their homes, drug users are exceptionally vulnerable category of people in that they will often be coerced with the promise of having necessities met in exchange for their homes becoming drug dens.
The BBC interviewed a survivor of the county lines trade. Jordan, not his real name, was part of the country lines gang that sold and moved drugs in Essex and Cambridge. He entered the trade in desperate need of money.
Like many of Jordan’s young friend’s he stated that the cost-of-living rise and the inability of his household to obtain the most basic items, made him an easy target for the gang. Jordan said the gangs offered cash and high value items, adding that “It can be family matters at home. Someone could even be walking down the road and if you haven’t got a lot of money at the time someone could criticise you, like cuss you, about ‘look at the shoes he’s wearing’, ‘he needs a haircut’.”
Jordan left the gang six months ago and has been partnered with charity Refocus to warn others of the dangers of involvement.
It is clear that a vicious cycle persists for Britain’s most vulnerable in society. Poor children, refugees and drug users. In and amongst the wider populous feeling the pinch during the cost-of-living crisis, it is clear that the most vulnerable have been submerged into a greater level of desperation and exposure.
Such a report demonstrates the deep ramifications of the persistent policy of “no recourse to public funds” for refugee families, particularly in a cost-of-living crisis. In addition, it is ever more present that further expansions to the Modern Slavey Act 2015, is required. Whilst the categories in the Act identify trafficking, greater public understanding of this category is required to improve the useability of the national referral mechanism).
Finally, in light of the ebbing political race for the top job at N0.10, it must be on the agenda of those who serve political office to implement further measures to reduce this vicious poverty to trafficking pipeline that continues to fester under the economic downturn.