The scale of children as young as 7 involved in the drugs trade in the UK is soaring to an alarming rate.
In 2017-18, 8,650 assessments by children’s services in England noted young people as being vulnerable with gangs identified as an issue.
Ministers of Parliament, academics and charities described the findings as shocking, saying the rise of organised criminal groups which use children to traffic and then sell drugs from inner-city areas to provincial towns, known as “county lines”, was a key factor in the surge.
Separately, analysis found the number of times children were assessed as vulnerable because of having gone missing also soared in the same time period, from 8,850 to 16,070. This is also considered a major feature of the county lines drug crisis.
Simon Harding, an associate professor of criminology at the University of West London, said the figures were very worrying. He said he had interviewed children making over $1,000 a week, or even as much as $1,000 in a single day. “That is an enormous amount of money. It gives them a great deal of freedom, or at least these young people think it does.
“In reality it does not, as frequently they will be quite controlled – but they can be involved in a line for a year or two and then step out and run their own line and employ their own kids to do it. The learning here is very fast.”