Parents at risk of exploitation from gangs during lockdown, campaigners warn

4 May 2020, 06:56

Parents are at risk from exploitation from gangs during the coronavirus lockdown
Parents are at risk from exploitation from gangs during the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

Parents are at risk of being exploited by gangs due to the Covid-19 pandemic according to campaigners.

One organisation has said there has been a surge in people looking for help to avoid being sucked into gangs in London during the coronavirus crisis.

Lucy Martindale, 30, the director of Operation Shutdown, an anti-violence community interest company, said: "What worries me is I know there is the potential for these single parents to be exploited or drawn into gangs, fraud and selling drugs, just so they can make ends meet during this time - these are tough times for a lot of people."

She also said many parents are worried about their children being pulled into a life of crime to help their struggling families pay their rent or put food on the table.

It comes after a report was published by children's commissioner Anne Longfield which said a "real risk" exists of criminal gangs recruiting young people out of school during the coronavirus lockdown.

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The report called for the Government to ensure councils and teachers stay in touch with those most vulnerable to exploitation, and those suffering the "toxic trio" of domestic violence, substance misuse and mental illness at home.

It also emphasised that the lockdown has removed many of the usual ways of identifying children at risk, with schools and other community hubs, including doctors' surgeries, youth centres, children's centres and libraries also closed.

Ms Martindale, who was coerced into a gang in her early teens and beaten when she did not comply with their orders, said children as young as 14 have told her they have been approached to take part in "deets and squares".

Deets and squares is when an individual hands over their bank details to fraudsters in exchange for money, making them accessories to the fraudsters' crime.

Ms Martindale said: "But I have to say it's not just children that are at risk, it's also vulnerable parents.

"I'm working with parents who've lost their jobs and don't have enough to even give their children a slice of bread let alone feed themselves.

"Some are living in cramped and overcrowded conditions sharing rooms with other people, while others have already come to me with fears their children will be groomed online because they can't monitor them 24/7."

Asked what a potential solution could be, she said: "Exploitation won't stop just because there is a virus.

"A lot of times people aren't told the truth. They're simply told they can make easy money and the plan is made to look harmless when it's not.

"Now with social media platforms like TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram, there are now more ways to reach those who are vulnerable and I think it's time these platforms also take some real responsibility."