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County Lines: Safeguarding

Volume 686: debated on Monday 14 December 2020

What steps she is taking to tackle county lines drug trafficking and safeguard vulnerable children from exploitation. (910171)

What steps she is taking to tackle county lines drug trafficking and safeguard vulnerable children from exploitation. (910181)

What steps she is taking to tackle county lines drug trafficking and safeguard vulnerable children from exploitation. (910188)

We are determined to tackle the harm caused by county lines exploitation. In addition to the establishment of violence reduction units, the extensive operations conducted by British Transport Police on transport networks and other targeted policing across the country, this year we have significantly increased our investment in one-to-one specialist support for county lines victims and their families to help them to leave the clutches of these criminal gangs. We are also funding the helpline Safecall run by the Missing People charity, which provides specialist advice and support to young people, parents and professionals who are worried about a young person who may be in trouble and being exploited.

In my constituency there is one estate where it is believed that at least 20 county lines are being run. We have had a spate of killings this year, including two teenagers, one of whom died only a few weeks ago. Does the Minister think that the loss of over a third of our police services and 80% of our youth services, and the halving of our early intervention services, have helped or hindered in dealing with county lines?

We should be clear that the fault for the terrible facts that the hon. Lady describes in an estate in her constituency lies in the hands of the criminal gangs who are exploiting our children and peddling drugs. It is that demand for those illegal substances that is driving this market force of county line gangs across the country. She will, I am sure, be delighted about the recruitment of extra officers to the Met. She will also, I am sure, be pleased about the targeted investment that we are putting into one-to-one specialist support for children and young people, including in London. But the message is clear: it is criminal gangs who are responsible for this and we need to work together to drive them out.

Children in my constituency are also getting unwittingly or unwillingly ensnared by gangs and exploited by them, not only into county lines but other criminal activity. That has a huge impact on them and on their families. In response to this trend, groups such as Action Isleworth Mothers in my constituency have been set up by parents to support other parents and their children who are at risk. What additional support and funding will the Government provide to grassroots groups such as AIM?

I really welcome the sort of intervention that the hon. Lady describes. I am very conscious of the impact that county lines exploitation and, as she says, other types of criminal exploitation have not just on the young people themselves but on their families and their wider neighbourhoods. In terms of the organisation she mentions, I am very happy to meet her to learn more about it. I remind her of the youth endowment fund, which is a fund of £200 million that we have set out over a 10-year period in order to research programmes that work and are evaluated to have really good development and really good conclusions so that we can share that best practice with other local authorities and charities across the country.

In a recent report, the Children’s Commissioner highlighted the risk that young people in care were put in when they go into unregulated and mostly unsupported accommodation, and called for a ban on that. One of the things that they are at risk of is being preyed upon and drawn into county lines activity. Will the Minister speak to her colleagues in the Department for Education, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to see whether they can support my Bill which aims to outlaw this?

I hope the hon. Lady would be content to know that those discussions are already taking place. I take the vulnerabilities of children living in care very seriously indeed. One of the funds, the Trusted Relationships fund, which she may be aware of, is precisely to help children who have perhaps been let down by every adult they have come across in their lives, and I have seen at first hand some of the incredible work that the youth workers are able to do with individuals through that fund. I am certainly happy to meet her and to discuss her Bill with my colleagues.