Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner has issued a warning on how levels of youth unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic could provide an opening for gang recruitment.

The South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner raises his concerns for the young people living in South Yorkshire if unemployment levels rise.

He said: “Many young people are at a critical milestone in life – leaving school, college or university. They may leave without a job and find themselves for a period of time with little money. This can easily become a longer term and more deep-rooted issue as South Yorkshire is not a wealthy part of the country. South Yorkshire was among the poorest parts of the old European Union.

“Between 2010 and 2020, police budgets were cut and 20,000 officers were lost nationally, 500 of whom were in South Yorkshire. Organised crime groups took advantage of this and extended their operations, drawing in young people.

“They started grooming young people for criminal purposes, targeting young males with no job and poor prospects, an easy target. The gangs befriended them and used them to transport drugs. It looked like easy money but it led to deeper involvement in the drugs market. Young people began to be used to extend the gangs’ activities out of the towns and city and across county lines.”

The Police and Crime Commissioner fears that this could happen again if opportunities for young people continue to shrink.