NEWS
15/05/2020 17:05 BST | Updated 15/05/2020 17:05 BST

Young People In One Of UK's Worst-Hit Coronavirus Areas Are Flouting Lockdown. Here's Why

Boredom and overcrowding are forcing young people from poorer backgrounds outside in violation of the coronavirus lockdown - making them more vulnerable to gangs.

Connect Stars
Youth workers and volunteers involved in the outreach work, including Zaffar Van Kalwala (right)

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Young people are defying the government’s lockdown rules to stay outdoors because of overcrowding at home and boredom, according to research carried out in one of London’s most deprived areas.

Many of the young people were seen to be “clearly hungry” and in need of food, with those from low-income households especially affected.

Volunteers from the youth charity Connect Stars spoke to 130 people aged between 13 and 24 across the north-west London borough of Brent who were not adhering to social distancing rules.

They found that the majority of those questioned said they were not staying indoors because they were living in overcrowded homes, or because they were bored or suffering from a lack of physical activity.

One young person told volunteers they were “just looking for an escape from my family”, while another complained they were “out with friends because there is nothing to do at home”.

This was particularly the case with young people who do not have access to facilities that are normally affordable for those with wealthier backgrounds, said local anti-gangs worker Zaffar Van Kalwala, who supported the project.

“Brent is in the top 1% of the country’s most deprived places,” said the former local councillor. “People here are living in overcrowded homes in built-up areas.

“Young people might not have access to wi-fi or laptops. They’re aware of the lockdown but they’re also oblivious to it.“

When volunteers advised them to go back indoors and observe social distancing, many of them merely “shrugged their shoulders”.

“They feel helpless in their situation,” Van Kalwala told HuffPost UK.

The study also showed that conditions have been worsening for these young people since the coronavirus outbreak, with 43% saying they needed more financial support either through vouchers or food drops.

“The lockdown has affected the incomes of a lot of households,” said Van Kalwala.

“A lot of the young people we saw are not getting basic food and are clearly hungry.

“Normally they would go to school and eat. Now they don’t have that – their families don’t have the budget to feed them.”

With over third of its households living in poverty, Brent is one of London’s poorest boroughs, according to a 2019 Trust for London study.

It has also been one of England’s most affected areas in the pandemic. As of Thursday, there are 1,423 confirmed cases and 417 coronavirus-related deaths up to May 1.

Steven, 15, from Stonebridge told volunteers that he had gone to the park to “get some fresh air”.

“A family member caught the coronavirus so six of my cousins moved into our two-bedroom flat, which meant there are nine of us in the property,” he said.

With so many young people outdoors with little or nothing to do, there is also the increased risk that they might fall prey to local gangs.

On Friday afternoon, Brent Police issued a Section 60, which gives officers the power to stop and search a person without reasonable grounds. Van Kalwala said this was “mostly due to gangs and drugs”.

“Gangs are still active and they are still recruiting,” he said. “We can still see them going around.”

“Young people are even more bored, they don’t have access to income – they are more susceptible to being picked up by gangs.“

On Sunday it was revealed that young men are more likely than young women to break lockdown rules, according to research by psychologists from the University of Sheffield.

The study, which surveyed 2,000 13- to 24-year-olds, found that half the men aged between 19 and 24 had met friends or family members they did not live with during lockdown, compared to a quarter of women of the same age.