Today I spoke at Westminster Briefing’s County Lines Conference: Preventing and Tackling the Criminal Exploitation of Children and Vulnerable Adults.
It is always good to hear from professionals and share ways to best protect children who are being exploited by criminal gangs to sell drugs.
Those of you with children aged 16 to 17 know how much support young people need as they grow up.
For young people in care, this can be an intensely difficult period. They struggle to cope without good family support.
I recently chaired an inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults into the dangers faced by children who go missing from care when sent to live miles away from home.
The inquiry shone a light on an area which is causing deep concern – the increasing numbers of young people aged 16 and 17 who are living in unregulated, uninspected semi-independent accommodation.
This is a murky, twilight world which is off the radar.
They can become magnets for paedophiles and County Lines drugs gangs who prey on them because they are considered the easiest targets.
More than 5,000 looked after children are living in this shady world. In addition, many other young people, who are homeless, as a result of family break up, live in this unregulated accommodation. They are not classed as ‘looked-after’ and so no figures are kept on how many there are.
This accommodation is not inspected by Ofsted but it should be because many of these young people are very disadvantaged with few resources.
In law they are still children, the vulnerability of their age is recognised.
We wouldn’t find it acceptable to have our 16 and 17 year olds living in accommodation miles away from home with no care being provided but this is what is happening to young people in our care.
Our inquiry recommended that semi-independent accommodation should be regulated and inspected. The time for warm words from government is over. Our young people need action.
Strong feelings about our membership of the European Union have split our country down the middle.
I have always made it clear that I think leaving the EU is a bad idea and have voted in the House of Commons in accordance with that belief.
We had a referendum in 2016 and the result of that was a majority voted to leave nationally.
In our democracy we think that the will of the majority should prevail. That is straightforward and usually the minority who lose accept that.
But what happens when the issue is so important to the minority that they don’t accept the result? That is the situation we are facing now with years of division and recrimination whatever the outcome of the Prime Minister’s decisions.
If we are to keep our once much envied democracy then we have to find a better way of resolving divisive issues rather than a harsh ‘winner-takes-all’ system.