Lack of awareness putting children at risk of criminal exploitation

  • By Gemma Kappala-R...

Greater awareness is needed of the link between drug taking, modern slavery and the criminal exploitation of children and young people in drug dealing, new polling commissioned by London Councils has revealed.

London’s children and young people are particularly victimised by County Lines criminal activity - 283 lines operate from London and as many as 30 children can be criminally exploited in running each drug supply line.

London Councils commissioned YouGov to survey Londoners and people across the UK about their levels of awareness of the link between taking illegal substances and the exploitation of children and young people.

In London, the vast majority (93%) of people had heard of modern slavery, with 5% stating they knew a lot about it.

Londoners expressed clear views in respect of the harm caused by drug use in the survey, including –
• Drug users are not aware of exploitation and violence that occurs in the production/ distribution process
o In London: 58% agree and 25% disagree
o Across the UK: 50% agree and 32% disagree

• Drug users do not care who is involved in supplying them
o In London: 75% agree and 12% disagree
o Across the UK: 83% agree and 7% disagree.

• People who take drugs don’t think about how they get their drugs or where from – 76% agree and 11% disagree

The research also showed that people who have taken drugs in the last 12 months were more likely than those who have never taken drugs to say they have stopped buying goods or services because they felt or suspected they conduct their business in an unethical manner - 75% of recent drug-takers agreed with the statement compared to 53% of people who had never taken drugs.

The polling also looked at how attitudes change as people are given more information. Those who had used drugs in the last 12 months were significantly more likely to agree with the following opinions after being presented with information about child exploitation in County Lines.

• Drug users are not aware of exploitation and violence that occurs in the production/distribution process – 55% agree at the start versus 68% at the end
• Recreational drug users should take responsibility for supporting the illegal drugs trade – 39% at the start compared with 52% at the end.

Cllr Nickie Aiken, London Councils’ Executive member for Schools and Children’s Services, said:

“People need to wake up to an inconvenient truth - recreational drug use creates demand for illegal substances that County Lines gangs exploit children and young people to meet.

“There are children as young as 12 on London’s streets who have post-traumatic stress disorder - just like soldiers returning from Afghanistan or Iraq - because of how they have been menaced and beaten by gang leaders.

“Yet middle-class drug users who likely buy organic focaccia, free trade coffee and pride themselves on ethical investments continue to use cocaine and other class A substances at the weekend with no thought of the misery that delivers the product.

“We all agree on the importance of stopping knife crime and keeping children and young people safe. This survey shows that by opening people’s eyes to the realities of drug use in our own streets and neighbourhoods, our own communities can play a greater role in tackling these challenges.”

The next phase of London Councils’ research involves working with YouGov and Justice Studio to use the poll findings to explore how best to raise awareness.


Notes to Editors:

Click here to download a summary report on YouGov's polling.

London survey:

Fieldwork dates: 2nd - 13th August 2019
Sample size – 1,010

UK survey:
Fieldwork dates: 14th - 15th August 2019
Sample size – 2,073

This research will be shared at London Councils’ County Lines Summit, which takes place on Wednesday 11 September. Councillors and council officers across London local government have been invited to the event to share and learn about best practice for protecting children and young people in the capital from County Lines drug gangs and modern slavery.