We were warned.Again and again, public health experts shouted from the rooftops about the risks of obesity to our collective health: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and now Covid.The statistics are sobering. A landmark report from the World Obesity Federation today shows 90% of global deaths occurred in countries with high obesity levels. The average death rates in countries with high obesity levels were ten times higher than those without overweight populations. Not a single nation with low levels of obesity (less than 50% of the population overweight) had more than ten deaths per 100,000 people, while no country with death rates above 100 per 100,000 had less than 50% of their population overweight.Take Vietnam, which has the lowest overweight population globally, and the second-lowest Covid death rate, with just 35 deaths. Then look at the UK, which has the third-highest death rate at 121,000 and the fourth highest obesity rate globally.The correlation is clear.  Failure to keep public policy promises on tackling obesity has cost many lives.  Old age – the other major cause of Covid deaths – is unavoidable, but having overweight and obese populations is highly avoidable. Surely now, the lesson for post-pandemic Britain is a massive shakeup to public health policy? That’s why governments worldwide agreed to a set of targets to tackle obesity in 2013 at the World Health Assembly, committing to halting the rise in obesity at 2010 levels by 2025. The latest data shows most countries have comprehensively failed in the task they set themselves, with a less than 10% chance of hitting their target.  On current trends, one in five adults worldwide are expected to have obesity by 2025, yet all countries fall short of 2025 targets.It’s a stern message for grieving families and people who have lost jobs and income to hear: much of this crisis was preventable.  Much of the death toll, the prolonged and repeated lockdowns, and the resounding hit to the economy was avoidable. Surely now, the lesson for post-pandemic Britain is a massive shakeup to public health policy?For too long, policymakers have treated obesity as as primarily a matter of personal responsibility, and scorned efforts to turn the tide as the nanny state.  But the root causes of obesity are complex: just telling people to eat less and move more won’t cut it.  The drivers are often deprivation, affordability of food, genetic and mental health factors, lack of healthy food choices and lack of nutrition education.No-one knows better than me that personal responsibility is vital. I shed eight stone through blood, sweat and tears – but I can afford fresh fruit and vegetables, a gym subscription and had access to research and data to show me what the unhealthy ultra-processed food I was consuming was doing to my body. For many of the overweight population, that simply isn’t the case. With a food industry intent on marketing and selling as much lousy fat and high sugar products as they can get away with, it’s instead up to governments to use the levers that only they have to address the root causes.Slowly but surely, over the last few decades, the arrival of ultra-processed food on our supermarket shelves has seen products become more calorie-dense, more affordable and more aggressively advertised.  It will come as no surprise that the rise of the global obesity epidemic coincides with these food environment changes. Boris Johnson made encouraging and welcome noises after his coronavirus scare last year, but I worry his advisers underestimate the scale of the change required. Studies from Latin America show that marketing strategies designed to appeal to children through cartoon characters, promotions, and product placement significantly impact consumption.  In 2017, when I was deputy leader of the Labour Party, an influential political figure boasted to the Sun newspaper that she had “saved Tony the Tiger” by intervening in a Department of Health obesity strategy to scrap proposals to ban aggressive marketing of sugary foods to children.I’m afraid she succeeded. And just four years later, we have the fourth highest obesity rate and third highest covid death rate globally.I know many good people have tried to tackle this issue, but only leadership from the top can make the sweeping, systemic changes we need to shift the dial. Boris Johnson made encouraging and welcome noises after his coronavirus scare last year, but I worry his advisers underestimate the scale of the change required. If there were a simple solution, we wouldn’t have such an entrenched global problem: we need a comprehensive, joined-up solution that cuts across government departments and brings communities, families, and all political parties on board.The case for investment in public health and a comprehensive obesity strategy to prevent future pandemics and help our economic recovery is overwhelming.  We now know that an overweight population is a pandemic waiting to happen: it’s not just Covid; other respiratory epidemics like bird flu and MERS both impacted people living with obesity far more severely.  If ‘build back better’ means anything, then tackling obesity has to be top of the list.Tom Watson is a former deputy leader of the Labour Party. Follow him on Twitter at @tom_watsonRelated...Turns Out, Eating Meat Is Worse For Us Than We Once ThoughtPeople Are Being Offered Jabs Because The NHS Has Got Their Heights Extremely WrongYes, I’m In My 50s And Weigh Over 19st. 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The World Health Organisation has urged politicians to act urgently on obesity after a new study found a “dramatic” correlation between Covid death rates and excess weight.The research by former Public Health England and WHO adviser Dr Tim Loebstein reveals that coronavirus deaths are 10 times higher in countries where more than half the population is overweight.Published to mark World Obesity Day on March 5, the study shows that 2.2m of the 2.5m (90%) Covid-19 deaths are in nations with high levels of obesity.The World Obesity Federation, which commissioned the study, said that the “dramatic” correlation showed “hundreds of thousands” of deaths could have been avoided with better public health policies.The UK has the third highest death rate in the world and the fourth highest obesity rate (184 deaths per 100,000 and 63.7% of adults living with obesity according to WHO data), followed by the United States of America (152.49 deaths per 100,000 and 67.9% living with obesity).By contrast, Vietnam has the lowest death rate in the world and the second lowest proportion of its population overweight (0.04 per 100,000 deaths from Covid and 18.3% adults overweight, according to WHO data).Not a single nation with low levels of obesity had more than 10 deaths per 100,000 people, while no country with death rates above 100 per 100,000 had less than 50% of their population overweight, the report said.The new analysis also shows that overweight populations are much more susceptible to respiratory diseases generally, with outcomes significantly worse for people living with obesity during the MERS and H1N1 epidemics.WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the evidence was now “clear and compelling” and the report “must act as a wake-up call to governments globally”.Writing for HuffPost UK, former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said that the “landmark” report showed that Boris Johnson had to devise long-term programmes to tackle deprivation, strengthen regulation of the food industry and boost public health policies.Watson said that for too long politicians had treated the issue as a matter of personal responsibility versus “the Nanny state”.“The root causes of obesity are complex: just telling people to eat less and move more won’t cut it. The drivers are often deprivation, affordability of food, genetic and mental health factors, lack of healthy food choices and lack of nutrition education,” he said.“With a food industry intent on marketing and selling as much lousy fat and high sugar products as they can get away with, it’s up to governments to use the levers that only they have to address the root causes.”Age has been the predominant focus of analysis of risks of hospitalisation and death to date, but the Lobstein report shows for the first time that overweight populations come a close second.Professor Lobstein said: “We now know that an overweight population is the next pandemic waiting to happen.“Look at countries like Japan and South Korea where they have very low levels of Covid-19 deaths as well as very low levels of adult obesity. They have prioritised public health across a range of measures, including population weight, and it has paid off in the pandemic.”Around one in three UK adults is clinically obese with a BMI (body mass index) over 30, one of the highest rates in the western world.Boris Johnson has declared that he was “too fat” and “way overweight” when he was admitted to intensive care last April as he battled Covid-19 and was put on oxygen. He has since launched a new obesity strategy but critics say it still fails to go far enough.The study by Lobstein analyses the latest mortality data from Johns Hopkins University and WHO Global Health Observatory data on obesity.Following speculation about the difference in death rates between Asian and western countries, as well as low income and high-income countries, the report suggests that healthy weight is a common denominator in keeping death rates low – and that any excess body weight is likely to impact the severity of Covid-19 in a patient.It also reveals the economic costs of preventing health services being overrun through lockdowns could have been significantly mitigated if governments had tackled population weight issues before the pandemic.Of the $28tn (£20tn) IMF projected global cost in lost economic output worldwide up to 2025, at least $6tn (£4.3tn) will be directly attributable to the issue of populations living with excess weight.“This report must act as a wake-up call to governments globally,” said Dr Ghebreyesus.“The correlation between obesity and mortality rates from Covid-19 is clear and compelling. Investment in public health and co-ordinated, international action to tackle the root causes of obesity is one of the best ways for countries to build resilience in health systems post-pandemic: we urge all countries to seize this moment.”Johanna Ralston, CEO of the World Obesity Federation, said: “Old age is unavoidable, but the conditions that contribute to overweight and obesity can be highly avoidable if governments step up and we all join forces to reduce the impact of this disease.“The failure to address the root causes of obesity over many decades is clearly responsible for hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of preventable deaths.”Related...Boris Johnson Focusing On Obesity Over Women And BAME People Because He's Obese, Says Labour MPPeople Are Being Offered Jabs Because The NHS Has Got Their Heights Extremely WrongThe UK Has Stopped Talking About All The People Dying Of Covid
The vaccine might offer a way out of the pandemic, but it won’t repair our fractured society. After a year when we have seen progress towards women’s equality undermined, we needed a Budget that would ensure a sustainable and equal recovery. Sadly, this year’s fell short of what was needed. As with previous government announcements over the last year, the needs of women have been sidelined.When lockdown first began last year, the implications for women were instant: over 36% of young women employed in shutdown sectors like hospitality, leisure and tourism. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak and ensuing labour market shock, young women were already facing a gender earnings gap(32.8% for 18-21 age group and 19% for 22-29 age group), discrimination and sexual harassment. The lockdown hit young women particularly hard – overall, women were more likely to be furloughed, taking a 20% pay cut, in 72% of parliament constituencies across the UK.At home, women across England saw a rise in unpaid work as schools and nurseries closed. Lack of available support has meant an increased amount of unpaid work and multitasking duties, severely impacting women’s time for paid work. Consequently, 46% of mothers being made redundant said that lack of childcare was a factor in their selection for redundancy. We needed a Budget that would take immediate action to mitigate the worst impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on different groups on women. Unfortunately, that isn’t what we got. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on people’s mental health too. Mothers are facing the brunt of increased workload with twice as many reporting they would have to take time off with no pay due to school closures or a sick child. Some 51% of single parents are also reporting to have depression, bad nerves and anxiety (compared to 27% of couple parents).At the same time domestic abuse cases rose and cases of femicide as a result of domestic abuse more than doubled since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.This is all to say we needed a Budget that would take immediate action to mitigate the worst impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on different groups on women. Unfortunately, that isn’t what we got.The Chancellor extended the furlough scheme until September, which will protect many jobs in the short term. However, many of those currently furloughed are likely to be worrying if they will have a job once the scheme ends. Women have been furloughed in greater numbers than men during the pandemic, and the gender furlough gap is higher for younger womenthan older women. This isn’t surprising when you consider the sectors that women are more likely to work in.The Chancellor also extended Universal Credit for another six months. Although this is welcome, it is only a short-term fix that risks pushing families into debt and undermining the recovery. The government clearly recognises that UC is not enough to live on at the moment – benefit levels in the UK have been cut over the past ten years, and even with this uplift to UC they are still low compared to other countries. As our research with the Runnymede Trust showed, these cuts disproportionately impacted Black and minority ethnic women. The government clearly recognises that UC is not enough to live on at the moment.  There was nothing in the Budget to address the problems with statutory sick pay (SSP). At the moment, WBG calculations find that 15.5% of women and 10.6% of men do not earn enough to qualify for SSP. The low level of SSP was always unjust – during a pandemic it is not only bad for individuals, but also disastrous for public health. There have been widespread reports of key workers who felt they had no choice but to continue to work when they were ill, or using up annual leave, because they couldn’t afford to self-isolate. And we know that take up of community testing has been low in the poorest areas, again because people fear a positive result would mean they had to self isolate and be left unable to pay rent or bills.Nor was there anything in the budget to address the crisis in the care sector. Women are more likely to need care as adults, more likely to work in the care sector, and more likely to be the ones who have to provide unpaid care if care services are not available. Investment in care would not only be good for these women, it would create much needed jobs. Our research shows investment in the care sector could create 2.7 times as many jobs as investment in construction. So why isn’t care at the heart of recovery plans?The Chancellor did announce some additional money for the violence against women sector. But the £19 million is nowhere near the £393 million, including £173 million for refuges that Women’s Aid estimate is needed to provide sufficient funding for a ‘safe and sustainable’ national network of women’s domestic abuse services.Over the past year we’ve not only seen women suffering the worst economic and social impacts of Covid. Now the government appears to have forgotten about women altogether.Ebyan Abdirahman works with the Women’s Budget GroupRelated...Rishi Sunak's Budget Explained In Two MinutesThe chronic stress brought on by the coronavirus has left us emotionally blunted. Experts share some tips on how to cope.People Like Me Rely On The Universal Credit Uplift. Don’t Take It Away From Us
Global Bipolar Disorders and Treatment Market   - OverviewThe global bipolar disorders and treatment market is growing with the swift pace; mainly due to the increasing stress in life.According to a recent study report published by the Market Research Future, The global bipolar disorders and treatment market is booming and expected to gain prominence over the forecast period growing rapidly .Request Sample Copy:https://www.marketresearchfuture.com/sample_request/1566Bipolar disorder, is also known as manic-depressive illness, which is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings includes emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression), energy, and activity levels.Bipolar I is considered by one or more manic episodes or mixed episodes.Bipolar II disorder are generally diagnosed after one or more major depressive episodes and at least one episode of hypomania, with possible periods of level mood between episodes.Global Bipolar Disorders and Treatment Market   - Competitive AnalysisJuly, 2017- Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. and H. Lundbeck A/S announced ABILIFY MAINTENA (Aripiprazole) injectable suspension whcih is approved by U.S. FDA for maintenance monotherapy treatment of Bipolar I disorder.Based on Phase 3 study data, ABILIFY MAINTENA delayed the time to recurrence of any mood episode in adult patients experiencing a manic episode at screening compared to placebo.March, 2016- Allergan announced availability of VRAYLAR (cariprazine) for treatment of bipolar mania and schizophrenia in adults.
After living through the Covid-19 crisis for a year now, many of us are understandably exhausted, depleted and just burned out. When you consider the unrelenting stress we’ve been under — from fears about the virus to job insecurity to social isolation to political unrest — it’s no wonder people have hit a wall.“Your bandwidth pre-Covid is not your bandwidth now,” Branden Crawford, a cognitive behavioural life coach at Kaleidoscope Family Therapy in Atlanta, told HuffPost. “Even though we are a year into this global pandemic, it’s OK to gently remind yourself that you don’t operate how you did pre-Covid. Be aware of where you are and show yourself some grace.”So what can you do when you feel like you’re running on fumes? Below, experts offer advice on how to deal.1. Pinpoint what’s causing the burnout so you can address the root issue.Maybe it’s being isolated from your friends or the fact that you’ve been stuck in your tiny apartment for months on end. Maybe it’s trying to work from home while taking care of your kids — or something else entirely.“Once you have a sense of what’s causing the burnout, you can take the appropriate steps to improve the negative feelings,” said Samantha Elkrief, a therapist and health coach in New York City.Then focus on tackling whatever element you’re struggling with most. For example, if you need a break from the constant togetherness with your family, maybe you could coordinate something with them so you can have a night to yourself.“One patient I work with has taken turns with his wife the past two weekends because they were both short on alone time after a year working from home and homeschooling two young children,” Elkrief said.If you’re craving connection and a new experience, plan an online activity that isn’t the same ol’ virtual happy hour you were doing last spring.“My friends and I had some fun Zoom cocktail hours and then a few months in, we just burned out on connecting by video,” said Nicole O-Pries, an LGBTQ+ therapist in Virginia. “Instead of just giving up, we took an inexpensive online art class with an instructor in Spain. Our relationships were fostered while experiencing an opportunity to try something new and creative.”2. Incorporate more pleasure into your life.Chances are, pleasure is sorely lacking in your life these days — and no, we don’t just mean sex (though that totally counts, too). We’re talking about any feel-good experience, however small, that helps you slow down and savor the moment.“Check in with yourself and rate your current level of pleasure from 1 to 10,” said Lauren Donelson, a Seattle writer and astrologist who’s training to be a therapist. “See what you could do to increase that even by one number. For example, if you usually take quick showers, but a long, luxurious shower would bump your pleasure up from a 5 to a 6, go for it!”3. Shake up your routine.The schedule you established early on in the pandemic may have given those confusing days and weeks some much-needed structure while providing a sense of normalcy. Now, that same routine may feel stale and monotonous, which could be contributing to your state of apathy.“If you have the option, try changing one or two aspects of your routine for some freshness,” Donelson said. “For example, if you always make coffee at home, get coffee from a coffee shop once a week. A little bit of novelty can go a long way.”4. Make plans for the future.Now that the vaccine rollout is underway, there’s finally some light at the end of the tunnel. While we still have a ways to go before we can let our guards down, we can, at least, begin to plan — or at least dream — about what we’ll do when it’s safe again.“That might include booking a vacation for a certain date in the future that seems reasonable to imagine being feasible,” O-Pries said. “Or you might simply begin to save for the vacation and start doing your research on all the details of your future trip.”She also suggested creating a vision board to create some healthy anticipation.“This situation is temporary, and we need some visual reminders to help us remember that is the case,” O-Pries said.5. Carve out more time for rest.Sleep is essential to our mental and physical well-being, but being truly rested goes beyond how many hours of shuteye you get each night. According to physician and researcher Saundra Dalton-Smith, there are seven different types of rest: physical rest (like sleep or restorative activities like stretching), mental rest (like taking breaks from work), sensory rest (like turning off the lights or disconnecting from our devices), creative rest (like soaking up the beauty of nature or listening to music that inspires you), emotional rest (like saying “no” or being honest about how you really feel), social rest (like limiting your interactions with people who drain you) and spiritual rest (like praying or meditating).“With pandemic burnout, we need a fresh new way to rest that’s more than deep breaths and adequate sleep,” said Dara Bu Elliott, a life and career coach at Wellspace SF in San Francisco.Reflect on which types of rest are lacking in your life. Then schedule a “rest date” with yourself, Elliott suggested. For example, if you need more physical rest, take a restorative yoga class instead of going on your morning run. If you need more sensory rest, dim the lights, close your laptop and sit in silence for a few minutes after you finish work for the day.6. Connect with your inner child.Think back to what things used to light you up as a kid. How can you reintroduce some of those into your adult life?“For example, if you loved playing soccer as a kid, get a soccer ball and play around at the park,” Donelson said. “I loved playing the piano as a kid, and I’ve been playing a lot since the pandemic. My inner child loves it.”Sprinkle more of these joy-inducing activities or items into your week.“Those past positive experiences are the fuel we need to climb out of burnout and to create new ones,” Crawford said.7. Talk to a therapist.When left untreated, burnout can lead to clinical depression or other mental health conditions. If you’re struggling, consider making an appointment to connect with a mental health professional now. (And if cost is a concern, know that online therapy services, such as BetterHelp and Talkspace, tend to be more affordable options.) “It’s normal for folks to be feeling burned out right about now. Having someone there to focus on nothing but you can be a huge help,” Elkrief said. “Mental health concerns are at an all-time high, so finding a therapist can be a great way to help manage feelings of burnout.”Related...How To Be Proactive (When You're Stuck At Home)6 Subtle But Serious Signs You Have A Heart ProblemHow To Look After Your Mental and Physical Health In The Face of Uncertainty
Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the job market is terrible, and competition is as fierce as ever. That means, unsurprisingly, there’s also been a big increase in the number of people claiming out of work benefits to help support themselves. According to the most recent figures, compared to 1.4 million in March 2020, before the pandemic, there are 2.6 million people seeking Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit because they were looking for work. I’m one of them. Many in the former group, which I was also a part of, were claiming benefits because of low wages or short hours. I was working a zero-hours contract with short hours and had to claim Universal Credit in order to top up my income and be able to keep myself going. I was hoping to move into full-time work and get a role in editorial writing, content writing or communications, but then the pandemic hit. All the applications I made were halted and cancelled by recruiters, and now I’m still to achieve my goal. However, despite the struggles that I’ve faced job hunting during a pandemic, there has been light for me at the end of the tunnel in the form of the £20 per week Universal Credit uplift, which I started receiving last April. The uplift has boosted my monthly Universal Credit payments from: £317.82 to £409.89, an increase of £92.07.  Before the uplift, I would often be left with little money after paying for food and rent, and very often I struggled to save anything at all. Before the uplift, I would often be left with little money after paying for food and rent, and very often I struggled to save anything at all each month. The uplift, however, has been very beneficial: it helped me purchase a heater when my radiators stopped working in the middle of winter and weren’t fixed for over a month; it helped me escape a bad living situation and save up for a deposit towards a room in a better place; it helped me pay to transport my things to my new place; and it helped me finally put aside some money into my savings account.The uplift hasn’t only helped me, but also many other women across the country. One woman on the Young Women’s Trust Facebook Lounge told me that it was a “lifeline” that meant her and her partner never had to go without. Another said that as an out of work mum of a one-year-old, the £20 Universal Credit uplift meant that she could “at least cover the basics and make sure my son can come home to a warm home and a hot meal.” However, it’s been reported that the government is considering extending this uplift – which has helped so many through this trying time – only short-term, or even removing it entirely. As just one of those people, I have to ask: if the government can find the money to pay billions of pounds for its ‘Test and Trace’ system, surely they can provide funding for the uplift? Being able to feed and house yourself is a basic human right. The previous Universal Credit level was a struggle to live on for many – especially those who live in expensive areas of the country like London. Ideally, of course, it would be great if the government could keep the uplift permanently. The previous Universal Credit level was a struggle to live on for many – especially those who live in expensive areas of the country like London. At the very least, I want to urge the government to keep the uplift for a whole year instead of the rumoured six months. As my story tells you, it is self-evidently not a good idea for the government to scrap the uplift. The pandemic and recession are still ongoing, and that means doing so would only plunge people who are claiming this benefit – people like me – into further financial struggle. Dionne Boateng is a research associate and writer working with the Young Women’s TrustHave a compelling personal story you want to tell? Find out what we’re looking for here, and pitch us on [email protected] from HuffPost UK PersonalI Wanted To Get Covid-19 Over With, Thinking It Would Feel Like A Bad Flu. I Was So WrongI’m A Paramedic. I’ve Seen The Mental Health Toll This Pandemic Is Taking On Us AllI Help Covid Patients Learn To Smell Again. Here’s What I’ve Seen
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This is the final part of a series by HuffPost UK about county lines drug dealing in Britain.One afternoon in August 2018, two officers knocked on Abdi’s mum’s door and confirmed the worst: eight months after he had gone missing, her son’s body had been found. “I’d routinely walk to a nearby creek just to see if his body would wash up there,” she told HuffPost UK.“I would drop my children off at school then jump on buses, looking on the upper decks, to try and find him; I would stand by the window at home looking for him. I was on heightened alert. Any time I heard a siren I’d fear the worst.”Abdi Ali was murdered in what is believed to be a drug dispute.“The first night my son didn’t come home, I didn’t eat or sleep well at all,” his mother told us, “which set the tone for the next eight months. I didn’t spend an hour of peace.”She says the loss of her son has devastated her family. “If my children even look at Abdi’s old bedroom, to this date, they always cry,” she said.Like many of the parents who spoke to HuffPost UK for this series, her nightmare started when her son’s behaviour began to change. Shortly before he went missing, Abdi was arrested because a shop owner told police he had been browsing through knives, something his mother said was completely out of character. On another occasion, he was arrested for carrying a sharp weapon.But she maintains that, had the authorities done their jobs properly, the outcome would have been different.It is the first time she has given an interview since her son’s killing. She has asked us not to use her real name as her family try to rebuild their lives.“My boy, who had many things to look forward to – his life was cut short in the most horrific way.“The police did a poor job. They were constantly at my house with questions. If they took the matter seriously and acted on it, Abdi would be alive today,” she said.During the months that her son was missing, Abdi’s mum said the Met failed to contact the youth centre he was last seen visiting, and didn’t trace his mobile phone, which was still ringing days after he disappeared. Instead, they targeted his family.She would pass information from the local community to the police about where her son might be, but she says these lines of enquiry were never explored. Yet on one occasion, she says, dozens of officers stormed her house and searched it to the point where they broke furniture, “uprooting wardrobes and beds, throwing clothes on the floor”.Extended family and friends had to organise a collection for them to buy new furniture. They didn’t file a complaint against the police for fear that it would negatively impact the investigation into Abdi’s disappearance.A lack of confidence in the police prevented Abdi’s mum and her husband from reporting their son missing for two weeks. They had “no reason to suspect that he was in danger” and resolved not to “escalate” matters by involving the police.The family struggles financially. Beds are still broken from the raid and a bathroom pipe that was cracked during the incident is still leaking, creating hazardous conditions including damp and slippery floors for Abdi’s sister, who lives with a serious health condition. The family say their landlord, L&Q, hasn’t helped and the family can’t afford to pay for it to be fixed.A Met Police spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “As is standard in any missing person enquiry, a search of the family home was carried out. We have no record of any damage occurring or of a claim from the family for any repair at the time.”A spokesperson for L&Q said the housing association had no record of a police raid causing damage at the property, but that workers had “attended the property on a number of occasions to investigate and rectify issues relating to heating and water leaks as they have been reported to us”.L&Q says it will visit the house again this week to see what else needs doing.Since her son’s death, no social workers have visited to check on the welfare of Abdi’s siblings and she’s had no contact from the Met Police’s victim support team. Enfield Council, the family’s local authority, declined to comment on “individual cases”.Through grassroots north London charity Minority Matters, HuffPost UK has spoken to several mothers who have all echoed Abdi’s mum’s concerns about the police not taking their children’s disappearances seriously enough.In some cases officers tell worried parents that, once a person is over the age of 18, they are classed as an adult meaning that they are prioritised below missing children who are deemed to be more vulnerable. In other instances, when police officers do come into contact with young people who are dealing drugs, parents believe they don’t appreciate the gravity of the situation, or the fact that dealing is related to trafficking. The police are not arresting the masterminds behind the county lines – just our kids who are stuck in this vicious cycleCarol Smith*One mother, Carol Smith*, said when she reported her groomed 16-year-old to the police she was advised by officers not to be too harsh on him because he was “at that age”.“When the children are vulnerable and police know that they are vulnerable, they are still harsh in the way that they treat them. As though they’re enemies,” one mother told HuffPost UK.The surge in drug convictions and arrests – an increase of more than two-thirds in five years – has done little to quell county lines activity.Smith said: “The police are not arresting the masterminds behind the county lines – just our kids who are stuck in this vicious cycle. They get caught, serve time, get out and are back in the same place because the environment is the same. The same people that groom and exploit are here.”We put this to the Met Police’s deputy assistant commissioner Graham McNulty, who also leads the National Police Chiefs’ Council work on county lines.He told us he could not comment on specific cases, saying the force had made good recent progress cracking down on drug trafficking networks. “I would never say we’re perfect,” he said, “and things do go wrong in policing but my officers now understand more about the symptoms of young people being groomed and exploited.”Speaking to HuffPost UK, he said: “My view is, over the last year, we have absolutely put our focus on the line holders and the people at the top of this trade and I am determined that we are going to continue that and take more of them out in the year ahead – because of the abhorrent nature in which they exploit young and vulnerable people.”McNulty, who was appointed as NPCC county lines lead in November 2019, said as well as focusing more on the line leaders at the root of gang activity, he had overseen better collaborative working between national police forces, and pushed for harsher penalties “so that people driving the lines started to feel the consequences of what they’re doing”.The Met has arrested nearly 500 line holders and their associates, McNulty said. Against those 500, nearly 900 charges have been made – the vast majority for supply of drugs – while some 255 lines have been closed coming out of London.“During the course of those operations, we’ve rescued 98 young or vulnerable people who were being exploited,” said McNulty. “We’ve also upped our focus on applying modern day slavery charges to line leaders and not just locking people up for drug dealing, so they feel the consequences of their behaviour for the abuse they’ve wreaked.“The proof is in the pudding and of those arrests, you’ll appreciate that there’s a lot awaiting trial but 74 have gone to trial, they’ve all been convicted and 98% of them – which is a figure I’ve never seen before – pleaded guilty because of the weight of evidence against them. In 30 years of policing, I’ve never seen that.”Angie Patterson* told HuffPost UK her family had been let down by social services after her son Oscar* was groomed at the age of 13. This was back in 2012, when county lines grooming wasn’t yet fully recognised as child exploitation.“From the point of me raising concerns, none of the agencies such as St Giles Trust [a charity that assists vulnerable people] or social services around my son at that point were willing to take them seriously. Generally social services weren’t fit for purpose – they were accustomed to dealing with cases of parents not wanting their child, not children repeatedly going missing from home, missing school. The majority of social workers I came across weren’t interested and nobody was concerned why what was happening was happening.”A St Giles Trust spokesperson said the charity has helped 966 children and young people “make a safe and sustained exit from county line exploitation or reduce their involvement in it” this year alone.“This is complex work and it can take many years before positive progress occurs,” they added. “The journey itself is often rocky, with young people dipping in and out of county lines over time before they turn their life around. The vast number of families and young people we support feed back to us that their lives have been changed for the better as a result of our support.”In one week, Patterson said she called the local missing people’s helpline – which was run by individual police forces at the time – at least 20 times to flag her son’s regular disappearances. The service has since been replaced by the Home Office-funded Missing People’s SafeCall service.On one occasion, upon his return, she recalled how a social worker nonchalantly appeared to shrug off the issue and said: “Ah, at least he’s back now.”Between his goings and comings, she began to find train tickets in the pockets of his laundry showing he had been to areas in Essex – miles away from their north London home. He even jumped out of his bedroom window to avoid confronting his mother after being called by county lines associates to leave the house.“Each time he came back, you could really see the strain of heavy manipulation and control – the fear in his face,” she said. “On one occasion, he escaped from wherever he was and ran home. He stank – you could tell he hadn’t washed for days.“My son was like a zombie. He wouldn’t speak to me, and we were close. Oscar was completely out of touch with reality – desensitised. Whatever threats he was facing, I can’t imagine.”Oscar is now serving time in prison for drug-related charges after being assigned “at least 10” social workers in the space of eight years.Tanya Mitchell’s* 20-year-old son Myles was excluded from school after police found him with a machete in his school bag, aged 16. The headteacher said “we don’t want thugs in our school,” she told HuffPost UK. But she says son was never a thug – he had been groomed, something she began to suspect when Myles’ behaviour began to change drastically in his early teens.She tried to tell his school this before they kicked him out.“I contacted the school several times – via email and telephone – and suggested my son was being groomed. The response was: ‘Oh it’s fine, he hasn’t said anything’s wrong; if there’s a problem, I’m sure we can let social services know and they can deal with it,’” Mitchell explained.The exclusion triggered a downwards spiral that led to a stabbing attack, an increase in disappearances, and, Mitchell suspects, sexual abuse.“I think he was being sexually exploited and I understand that is quite common, even with boys, who are groomed,” Mitchell said.“I’ve got no evidence but I think he was filmed or pictured in a compromising position and he was blackmailed. We only have one photograph of him since he was 14 – my son used to love being photographed but if I go anywhere near him with a camera, he just goes completely mad shouting: ‘Get that away from me.’“The way he talks about men has changed. He became obsessed with paedophilia all of a sudden, started to come out with homophobic comments, which is not how he was raised at all.”Now Myles is 20 years old. He is agoraphobic and hasn’t left the house in two years. “It took me nearly two years to drill into the youth offending team that my son had been groomed.“One officer said: ‘Well, he’s not said anything about modern slavery.’ Of course he’s not going to. They’re on another planet.“Parents are blamed all the time – but we’re traumatised too.”Professionals have said grooming gangs “scout for children perceived as being ‘naughty’”.Cheryl Phoenix, executive director of The Black Child Agenda, supports children and families who face discrimination within the education system. Black children are three times as likely to be permanently excluded from school as white British pupils.“County lines are the after-effect of what’s going on with the education system and the discrimination against and bullying of Black families in particular,” she said. “Black children are more likely to be excluded, so with that exclusion that means you have children on the streets. If they’re on the streets that means they’re easily accessible by these gangs. The majority of these young people on the road have been permanently excluded from schools.“Gang leaders go as far as sexually abusing these children – boys and girls – and filming it, threatening to put it out in the public domain via social media if they don’t do as they’re told. This is very, very common. So it’s not like a lot of these kids are aggressive, violent animals as they’re described in the media. A lot of them are frightened little children who don’t know what to do or where to go for help.“You’ll find that even in prisons there’s a disproportionate number of Black men whose needs weren’t met when they were at school and were left to languish in pupil referral units [PRUs – a type of school that caters for children who aren’t able to attend a mainstream school due to a need for greater support], where they’ve been groomed in gang life. PRUs are a sin bin where they dump children, leave them and forget about them.“You have to look at the bigger picture: a lot of the PRUs are run by G4S security, which also runs a lot of prisons across the UK and works with social services. They took Black people out of chains [after slavery] but have they?”Black men are 26% more likely than white men to be remanded in custody. The 2017 Lammy Review of the treatment of Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups in the UK justice system found Black people were 53% more likely to be sent to prison even when factoring in higher not-guilty plea rates.Lammy concluded that the justice system was biased against this group, and required reform. While none of his recommendations have been implemented, the government has launched a £2.5bn programme to create 10,000 additional prison places.McNulty said: “We know that crime doesn’t affect everyone equally. Some of our Black communities in London are impacted more by violence and drugs – I think that’s undisputable, the figures are there. “That means it’s incumbent upon policing to absolutely make sure it works hard in those areas to deliver justice and it may well be the case that more young Black men are arrested for drugs but I’d like to reassure you that, in the county lines effort, our focus has been those at the top of the line.”Aasmina’s* son Kieran* is currently serving a life prison sentence for a fatal stabbing over drugs in 2013, aged 26. She paid for the victim’s funeral and the two families, both Somali, made peace with one another.Kieran had been groomed into county lines activity years earlier, at the age of 13, as was his victim. Despite frequent disappearances, as is commonplace with children trapped in county lines, Aasmina said they were let down by the authorities. He was expelled from school for “acting out” and sent to a PRU where things quickly began to unravel.“He attended school with my two other sons and teachers would make comments about him during parents evening, that he was ‘different’ to the other two. They alluded to Kieran’s mental health and learning difficulties – but didn’t specify and there was never any plan to support him,” she told HuffPost UK.“There are challenges that come with education. When children start acting out, there’s no support given to them, nothing to fall back on – so when they drop out of school they fall into criminal behaviour. It started with my son refusing to go to the PRU – by then he already had outside friends.”Kieran had always made it clear that he was a part of a gang and even said, aged 15, that he had “no choice” but to sell drugs. Aasmina explained that she tried her best to help her son, even offering to uproot the entire family and leave the UK.“My son said he’s at the point of no return because he’s involved. ‘You guys don’t get it. It’s not just my life I’m scared for. If I don’t do what they want then they’ll come for you as well. So I do what I do to protect you.’ I felt terrible hearing him say that. It affected my emotional and mental wellbeing, I became depressed, I couldn’t sleep and started to isolate myself from friends and family. I couldn’t deal with the weight of it.”In prison now, Kieran recently told his mother: “Please don’t think that I wasn’t hearing you guys when you said the gang is bad news and warning me about the path I was on. But what you guys didn’t understand is that I didn’t have a choice.” Mayor of London Sadiq Khan told HuffPost UK nearly £4m had been invested into City Hall’s “rescue and response” programme, working to intervene and support young people caught up in county lines, while 1,100 young Londoners have been referred for specialist support over the last two years – half of them under 18.Khan told HuffPost UK: “Criminals and gangs have used the uncertainty created by Covid-19 to recruit disadvantaged young Londoners. We know that those running county lines have altered their dealing hours and locations to blend in with lockdown measures, and they have increasingly used social media to recruit young people, many of whom have lost their jobs and in some cases their homes.“We’re only scratching the surface of a major national issue that is still driving violence in London and across the country.”He is calling on the government to “reverse the damaging cuts to local and social services – many of which are on the front line in the battle to tackle this issue”.Responding to the mayor’s statements, Aisha Ahmed – development manager at Minority Matters – told HuffPost UK: “It is ironic that he’s now using Covid, lockdown, loss of jobs and police cuts. Seriously, children and young people were vulnerable and openly being recruited in places where they were supposed to be safe. What has Sadiq done to protect the families? Why are there so many drugs on our streets and neighbourhoods?”As well as 20,000 police officers lost to austerity, recent analysis by the YMCA charity found local authority spend on youth services had dropped 69% from £1.4bn to £429m between 2010 and 2019, resulting in the loss of 750 youth centres. In the first five years of austerity, local authority budgets were cut by 40% amounting to an estimated £18bn lost from care provision for those most in need. The government disputes that cuts are to blame.When HuffPost UK asked the Home Office about concerns around austerity and the impact it has had on young people – specifically Black and minority ethnic communities – the department pointed towards recent funding that has been rolled out.Policing minister Kit Malthouse said: “The government is determined to end the scourge of county lines and tackle the vile criminals exploiting vulnerable children, which is why we have invested £65m in county lines specifically since November 2019 which has already seen more than 3,400 people arrested, more than 550 lines closed, drugs with a street value of £9m and £1.5m cash seized, and more than 770 vulnerable people safeguarded.“However we are aware that those at risk of exploitation need support to stop them getting drawn into county lines. This is why we are investing £230m in youth services and projects that give young people support and get them involved in positive activities.“The government is also improving the police response in areas worst affected by serious violence by investing £176.5m over the last two years through the serious violence fund. This includes violence reduction units, which bring together organisations across local communities to tackle violent crime and address its underlying causes, with a further £35.5m of funding just announced for the coming year.”On behalf of the Met, McNulty added: “Policing has, it’s well documented, lost a lot of police officers and staff over the last eight to nine years. But we’re in a different place now. I am getting more resources, more people, there’s been an announcement of an extra 20,000 officers – all of the work that we’ve been doing over the last year has come through extra government funding, [...] so we can have a dedicated response to county lines and I think that is making a difference.“Before – without the money – it was tough. Undoubtedly the funding we’ve received since November 2019 has helped.”As 20,000 is also the number of police officers lost across the UK to austerity during the last decade, Boris Johnson’s high-profile recruitment drive will only mean a return to 2010 levels.What’s more, Ahmed, from Minority Matters, said the police “failed” to properly utilise resources available to them in order to make Britain’s streets safe.“They refused to target the organised criminals that robbed our children of their future,” she said. “Families are more scared for their lives than ever and everyone is looking to find a safe place away from this havoc. Many refugee and migrant families regret seeking refuge in Britain.” Many refugee and migrant families regret seeking refuge in Britain.Aisha AhmedAhmed said the authorities should place greater focus on regulating and controlling drugs, offering rehabilitation and de-grooming for children and young people affected by drug trafficking. “The government should invest in better border controls, intelligence-led investigations and monitoring rogue employees that are enabling drugs to come through,” she added.“Children and young people aren’t even safe in prison. Our interventionist programmes don’t work and providers blame it on lack of engagement from the children’s part. Put yourselves in their shoes; would you have time to engage when you’re being trafficked from town to town, staying in a trap house or addict’s house, carrying drugs in your backside, starved and abused in the process and when police catch you, you’re instructed to take all the blame?”The UK government should look to the examples of other EU countries that have “better” youth detention facilities, interventions, training and education provisions, Ahmed said.“Just like Switzerland, our government and mayor can invest in having effective systems in place and bring together parents, government officials, community members, law enforcement and medical experts.“We don’t want drugs on our streets, nor do we want drug lords making millions on the backs of children and young people. If the government can’t crack down on the ones running the drugs trade, from smuggling to building up distribution networks using children and young people, then they should take full control of the trade under a public health issue policy.”* Names have been changed.Related...Revealed: Drug Gangs Are Stealing Children From Loving Families – Even In Lockdown‘Your Dealer Is Nearby’ – How Drugs Are Delivered To Your DoorstepExplained: What 'County Lines' Is And How It Works
When schools reopen on March 8, face masks will be more prevalent than ever  before.Secondary school pupils will have to wear masks in classrooms during lessons “unless social distancing can be maintained”. In fact, they’ll be required to wear masks “in all indoor environments” for the rest of term, with P.E being one of the few exemptions. In primary schools, however, pupils aren’t required to wear them – but staff will. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends mask-wearing for all over 12s, and says masks should be considered for 6-11 year olds in some circumstances.Children in the latter age group may need to wear masks if “there is widespread transmission in the area where the child resides”, says the WHO. So, does the UK school policy go far enough? We spoke to the experts to find out. Dr Julian Tang, a consultant virologist and expert in respiratory sciences at the University of Leicester, says it would help reduce virus transmission if all children wore face masks, particularly as schools reopen. “Children have been doing this in other Western countries – including France and the United States – in preparation for schools reopening,” he tells HuffPost UK. “Southeast Asian countries who experienced SARS 2003 – so have grown up in this masking culture – have been doing this all year.”Studies have indicated that universal mask wearing (in countries such as Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong) contributes to the effective control of this virus, Dr Tang adds. “This will apply to the new variants also, as lab-based studies have shown that universal masking reduces overall virus shedding (using influenza virus) from the source as well as exposure to the recipient,” he says. If all children wore masks when returning to UK schools, it could “prevent the rapid close-range aerosol transmission during normal conversation that kids always have,” Dr Tang says. He recommends mask wearing alongside other measures, such as opening  windows – “to improve ventilation and reduce overall airborne virus concentration” – and keeping class sizes small – “to reduce crowding and improve social distancing”. But transmission prevention is only half the story. The health implications need to be balanced against the emotional and developmental risks of requiring children to wear masks, says child psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer. “Young children may not understand why they need to wear masks and so may be confused,” she says.Mask wearing could be turned into a game to help some children “process it without too much difficulty”, but this wouldn’t help all children.“For young children who have difficulty interpreting social and emotional cues, they are likely to be further disadvantaged as facial expressions form a large part of non-verbal communication,” she explains.“Children who are hard of hearing will also not be able to lip read and those who are shy and struggle to speak out may have their contributions to discussions missed, as no one will know they are trying to talk if they don’t see their mouths moving. Children who mumble will miss out on opportunities to speak out.”Dr Tang agrees the potential emotional implications of young children wearing masks in the UK should not be overlooked. “This is really a cultural thing,” he says. “Southeast Asian children have grown up with this culture since SARS 2003, so are more familiar with it and can adapt to it easier and better, just like using chopsticks versus knife and forks.”Older children are more able to understand the science behind mask-wearing, so Dr Gummer expects most secondary school pupils will be able to cope with wearing them. “The important thing for the older children is that they’re able to spend time with their friends,” she says. “If they need to wear a mask, most of them will accept that. Again, there’s a potential issue with shy children getting over-looked more, but I’d expect this to be less of an issue than in the younger age group. ”Epidemiologically, it’s also more vital for older students to protect themselves and their peers from the virus, adds Dr Tang, so it’s a good thing mask-wearing has been extended in secondary schools. “Secondary school children are more like adults,” he says. “They’re at higher risk of both transmitting and acquiring SARS-COV-2 infection and are also at risk of more severe Covid-19 disease due to their older age.”Children of all ages have also been found to be affected by long Covid – which is something else to consider if you’re debating buying a mask for your child. Ultimately, though, the government states children in primary school don’t need to wear a face covering. In other settings, while the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) advises that children under the age of 11 don’t need to wear face masks, whether they do or not is ultimately up to parents.Related...How To Prepare Your Kids Now They're Going Back To SchoolWe've Been Told To Open Our Windows This Winter. Here's WhyHow To Prepare Your Kids Now They're Going Back To School‘A 6-Year-Old In A 90-Year-Old’s Body’ – The Children Devastated By Long Covid'I Lock Myself In The Loo' – The Claustrophobia Of Parenting Right NowCreate A Mental Health Shelf – And 8 Other Tips To Calm Anxious Kids
Repeat after me: spring has sprung!In any regular year, March is the month where we find ourselves saying “the worst of it is over” after winter. The nights are shortening with the promise of post nine-to-five daylight hours any time soon. Our shoulder un-hunch after weeks tightened against the cold. City streets have a scent again. It is, as Katherine May writes at the end of her book Wintering, “almost warm”.Nature unfurling itself feels even more welcome this year. Not that you need reminding, but lockdown rules begin to ease this month, with schools reopening in England on March 8 and some outdoor socialising allowed from March 29. We may have to wait a while yet for proper hugs, but here are seven things we plan on embracing this month that aren’t each other.  Looking out for... those darling budsEndless vistas of greyish-brown will be jolted into vibrant colour with sparky yellow (and purple) this month. The croci are already poking through the grass of lawns and parks, and the first daffodils won’t be long behind them.Spot the blooms when you look up, too. The National Trust has announced it wants to introduce a ‘blossom season’ to the UK – much like the one in Japan – “to help signal reflection and hope.”A ‘blossom circle’ will brighten up London’s Olympic Park, where 33 trees including cherry, plum, hawthorn and crab apple will represent each of the London boroughs. The scheme will also be extended throughout the UK.Numerous studies tell us that nature is crucial to mental health, so check out the Trust’s guide to blossom to watch out for and feel yourself blooming, too.Settling in for... some excellent TV and moviesBinged It’s A Sin already? There are some new TV must-watches this month, including the celebrity edition of The Circle, in which famous people will ‘catfish’ one another by pretending to be other famous people. Loose Women’s Kaye Adams and Nadia Sawalha are both set to ‘do’ Gemma Collins, while Drag Race UK’s Baga Chipz will take on cleaning icon, Kim Woodburn. How long can this cast of absolute huns keep each other fooled?Other things to circle in the TV mag of your mind include Celebrity Bake Off, which begins on March 9. Series six of Line of Duty finally has a launch date: March 21. Meanwhile movie wise, Netflix teen flick Moxie, about a gang of high school feminist activists, drops on the platform on March 3.Films buffs, also take note: LGBTQ film festival Flare, organised by the British Film Institute, takes place online this month. The line-up is released shortly and an online purchase gives the viewer four hours to watch the film at home. A series of free-to-watch short films will also be available on the BFI website.Thinking about... the beginning of the end of lockdownWe are still a way off 100% “unlockdown” (even if Boohoo are priming us to party on June 21), but there’s respite in knowing restrictions will finally begin to lift this month. As well as parents breathing a collective sigh of relief on March 8 when schools reopen, it’s also the day you can start socialising with one friend in the park without using exercise an an excuse.From March 29, households will be allowed to travel to meet one another. And things gets easier for friends closer to home, too. The rule of six comes back into force on the same day, meaning six separate people or more if limited to two households, can also mix outdoors while socially distanced.If in doubt about your path to freedom, check out the brilliant One Way Road To Beer counter, that takes you from a tinnie in the park with one friend, through the opening of pubs outdoors, then indoors, to beer everywhere with everyone. Supporting... International Women’s DayMarch 8 falls on a Monday in 2021 – tellingly, the same day kids go back to school – and this year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge.We’ve lost count of the stories we’ve written and read about how much women have shouldered during this global pandemic, and how central they have been on the Covid frontline: in healthcare and science, at work and in the home, balancing it all at once.Online events are being held across the world that will no doubt discuss the juggle and struggle, as well as celebrating everyday heroism. The Southbank Centre’s Women of the World gathering is leading the way with its usual mix of talks, panels, workshops and performances – and it’s all online, of course. Follow the hashtag #IWD2021 to find out and follow all the latest happenings.Planning... for an amazing summerWith UK hospitality and travel getting back on its feet from mid-April, and festivals and other large-scale events given the cautious go ahead by government from June 21, we’re finally able to make some summer plans.Talk about putting the “tent” in tentative – but we’re excited. There’s clearly an appetite for life after lockdown, given the amount of UK festivals already selling out. So if you’re tiring of your park walks and TV binges this month, why not indulge in a little light (or heavy) diarising.The forecasted return of UK-wide travel from April means campsites and hotels are already taking provisional bookings. And yes, international travel is slated to begin again in May, but remember each step of easing is subject to review.In need of booking knowhow: we have a guide for that. In need of inspiration: here are some of HuffPost UK staffer’s favourite spots for a staycation.Celebrating... mums of all kinds.Mother’s Day on March 14 will still be online for most of us who don’t live with our parents, but think of it this way – it may be one of the last celebrations twe have to endure virtually. Even if you harbour a sense of impending Zoom (an idea this cartoonist nails well!), it’s nice there’s a day in the calendar to celebrate mums – plenty of whom are isolated and in need of a good cheering up.There will be many, of course, marking their first (or umpteenth) Mother’s Day without a parent – or paying tribute to chosen family instead. If that sounds like someone in your life, why not make sure they feel extra loved with a call, card or letterbox gift of their own.Preparing... our picnic gamePicnics united us all in the first lockdown, and while we have to wait until the end of March to picnic legally again, there’s joy in thinking ahead to their return.Looking for ways to up your picnic game? How about ordering a classic picnic hamper, some fancy cheeses (vegan cheeses aren’t so bad these days either) and a bright new rug to throw down? Related...These Pictures Of Spring Blossom Are The Weekend Vibe We NeedAll The New Original Films Coming To Netflix This MarchAre We There Yet? How To Book A Holiday After Lockdown19 Little But Life-Changing Things We'll Actually Be Able To Do This YearHow To 'Dream Big' Right Now, Even When It Feels ImpossibleHere's Why We Love Looking At Pictures Of The Sky So Much
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We’re living in an infinite present, where today feels like yesterday and we’ve no concrete plans for the future. Add that to the growing uncertainty about many people’s livelihoods and health concerns, it’s no wonder our wellbeing can feel rock bottom at times. For many of us, our routines have completely changed in the past year. Our homes have become the workplace, the gym, the pub, the sanctuary – it’s disorienting and only makes us feel more unsettled.In times of upheaval, looking after our mental and physical health becomes more important than ever. So whether you’ve fallen out of the habit or are struggling to find the time, we spoke to experts to get their advice on how to make your wellbeing a priority. Check-in with yourselfIt’s essential that we learn what self-care looks like to us and how we can incorporate that into our daily routine. Harley Street therapist Zoë Clews says: “Self-care is very personal to everyone and practices will widely differ but the foundations should always be enormous self-compassion with the intention to reduce stress and take better care of yourself.” Self-care could mean lighting a candle or listening to death metal, the activity doesn’t matter – it’s the impact on your mental health that counts.Although it may seem like every day is the same at the moment, that doesn’t mean you are the same every day. Sometimes you may wake up full of energy and eager to go out for a really long walk, on other days you might need to curl up under the duvet and watch films. Just as there’s no perfect solution for individuals when it comes to self-care, there’s no one thing that will always work for you. Listen to your mind and body, nourish yourself according to your needs in that moment.Commit to exercise, but go at your own paceThough lie-ins and self-care days are important, a lack of a physical exercise can greatly impact our mood. Eni Adeyemo, a fitness and lifestyle coach, explains: “When we do exercise, we release endorphins; your body’s ‘feel-good’ hormone. It’s the reason after a good sweat out we feel an instant mood improvement.” Incorporating a physical health check into our daily routine is key. “Your physical health especially during these uncertain times can be a lifesaver. It is an escape from the monotony we’ve all been experiencing. I commonly found whilst revising for exams, physical exercise helped me to get refreshed and take my mind off stress,” she adds. If exercise is new to you, it’s important to slowly build it into your daily routine. Planning ahead is key, Adeyemo says, as it helps you prepare before bed and reduces the risk of you bailing at the last minute. Take a look at your calendar for next week and schedule in some time to work out (it helps to also check the weather forecast, too.) Not every slot needs to be sweat-inducing, a walk or gentle yoga class also helps – just make sure you get your heart rate up regularly, too.  Stay connectedWe get it. You’ve got Zoom fatigue, you can’t be bothered to Whatsapp, and the words “pub quiz” make you heave. But staying connected is vital right now.“We need human connection not just to thrive but to survive,” says Clews. This isn’t just about catching up and having a laugh, but taking care of yourself and others through meaningful connection. “Getting our feelings out is vital in these times, keeping them all locked up inside is when they become particularly pernicious and hard to manage.” Try ditching the screens altogether and having an old-school phone call with a friend on your next walk. You can also try sending a card to a loved one (and hopefully receive one in return). Reminiscing by sending old photos of fond memories can also help brighten your and the recipient’s day. Remember it doesn’t have to be organised fun for it to count as connection.Give yourself a good talking toWhen was the last time you were critical of yourself, a decision you made, something you said? Chances are, it wasn’t too long ago. Clews says it’s time to stop the negative self-talk and start being kinder to yourself.“Beating yourself up leaves you feeling anxious and drained. Our nervous system can’t tell the difference between someone else criticising us and ‘ourselves’ criticising us,” says Clews. This isn’t something that can change overnight, it takes a lot of practice. Want to get started? Clews says: “Notice how you are talking to yourself and interject with ‘would I talk to my best friend like this?’ more often than not you wouldn’t - so don’t do it to you!”
The global organic bedding market size is projected to touch USD 1.1 billion by 2025.The market is witnessing considerable growth due to the rising demand for premium bedding products impacted by the trend of luxurious lifestyle and rising living standards of consumers.Further, rising awareness regarding importance of sleep and its effect on one’s health is encouraging consumers to invest on premium quality products especially bed linens and mattress, thereby, driving the market growth.Additionally, such bedding are manufactured through tenable methods to attain superior quality and hypoallergenic state owing to lack of chemical additives.Get Free PDF Sample Copy of the Report (Including Full TOC, List of Tables & Figures, Chart and Covid-19 Impact Analysis) : https://www.millioninsights.com/industry-reports/global-organic-bedding-market/request-sample Amongst various categories of bedding products, bed linen dominated the market in 2018 with above 33.7% of share in the total revenue.Bed linen products are mostly associated with healthy sleep that in turn improvises the brain health, learning and counterbalancing mental health symptoms.
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“I just want to get it over with.”I admit this thought had crossed my mind many times in 2020, ever since first watching the SARS-CoV-2 virus rapidly spreading in China. Before cases were even reported in the United States, I remember telling my husband that people weren’t paying attention. He may have thought I was being a little paranoid, but as someone with a chronic illness — who at the time was debating whether to start taking immunosuppressants — it felt important to keep an eye on it.That was over a year ago, and though a part of me had wanted to contract the coronavirus so I could hopefully get past it and treat my rheumatoid arthritis (which is not on the federal list of high-risk co-morbidities) without so much fear— nothing could have prepared me for the reality of experiencing “moderate” Covid-19 symptoms for myself. Some people may think that getting this virus is inevitable, and we’re all experiencing some major Covid-19 fatigue. In my rural community, I still regularly hear people proclaim that Covid-19 is a hoax or that it is “just the flu.”Many argue that they don’t need to follow safety protocols because this coronavirus “only affects those with preexisting conditions and the elderly” (as if they’re somehow expendable?). I hear people around me express more fear over the vaccine than of getting Covid-19. These attitudes are pervasive in Utah, where we’ve made headlines over conspiracy theorists storming hospitals, demanding access to ICUs; moms who follow a code not to test their children for Covid-19 in an effort to keep schools open; and anti-mask protests. Unsurprisingly, cases in Utah have soared, and our hospitals were at or near capacity for several weeks. "Battling Covid-19 was completely different than I had imagined because the symptoms were unlike anything I have ever experienced."  Though some people are blessed to have mild symptoms (or even be asymptomatic), so-called moderate symptoms of Covid-19 can still be terrifying and traumatic, and severe symptoms are an emergency. I have never thought that Covid-19 was like the flu and have done enough research for health articles I have written to know of the damage it can do to the body, including the incidents of organ damage, the risk of experiencing “long-hauler” symptoms and the growing body of evidence that the virus may cause psychosis in some individuals.  I’ve also had a lot of disease progression with my arthritis this past year without treatment, and my body has begun to show signs of permanent joint damage, which cannot be reversed. This is why a part of me has wanted to just “get it over with” in hope that it wouldn’t be severe for me. Ultimately, I hoped that were I to contract it, that Covid-19 would feel flu-like for me because I am in my 30s and not considered high risk. I was wrong.   Although I was careful and doing my best to follow safety guidelines, I contracted the coronavirus in mid-December. Battling Covid-19 was completely different than I had imagined because the symptoms were unlike anything I have ever experienced. Yes, there was a fever, a cough that felt deep and ominous, and extreme muscle aches and fatigue, but it was so much more than that... and it was nothing like the flu. What I didn’t expect, and nothing could have prepared me for, was the chest pain and pressure and the unrelenting feeling that I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. It made me feel like crawling out of my skin, like I was going mad. I could tell that my body was running on all cylinders, fighting an invader that was foreign and relentless. Sometimes I worried that my body was losing the battle. I feared going to sleep at night. What if I woke up gasping for breath or I didn’t wake up at all? Covid-19 isn’t just a physical disease, it can also cause a lot of anxiety. I was given a pamphlet when I got tested. It had a list of warning signs to watch out for, listing symptoms such as bluish lips or face, an inability to wake or stay awake. My lips weren’t blue, and I could take a deep breath, but I still felt like my body wasn’t getting enough oxygen. I couldn’t take more than a few steps without becoming extremely weak and dizzy, the world spinning around me. I was in that strange place of being very ill but maybe not quite sick enough to go to the hospital. I also didn’t know it at the time, but your body can be dangerously low on oxygen without experiencing classic signs, such as gasping for breath. I feared going to sleep at night. What if I woke up gasping for breath or I didn’t wake up at all?  Although a steroid I had on hand for rheumatoid arthritis helped ease my symptoms temporarily, the chest pressure and struggle for oxygen just kept coming back, and it made me wonder what kind of damage this constant onslaught of inflammation could be causing me internally.My body was fighting an all-out war, and although I could tell I was getting a little better each day, the stress of the battle on my immune system caused me to develop shingles about two weeks after testing positive for Covid-19. Shingles was miserable, but not nearly as scary as the coronavirus. We often hear about death rates pertaining to this virus, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. There are no guarantees with this virus, and there’s no way to know for sure how your body will react to it. This doesn’t mean that we should live in fear but rather that we should live with consideration of others, doing our best to protect the most vulnerable and ourselves from contracting this virus. Covid-19 should never be brushed off as being the flu or like any other illness that humans are familiar with. I am so very grateful to be alive, but I don’t feel completely “recovered.” To this day, eight weeks after receiving a positive test, I still can’t last on an elliptical machine more than 10 to 15 minutes without getting chest pain. My endurance has dropped dramatically. I struggle with lingering chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue and other strange symptoms, such as dry mouth and insomnia. Unfortunately, with Covid, “recovered” does not always mean “returned to good health.” While our family was in quarantine, a child in our neighborhood wanted to play with our son, and she banged on the door relentlessly until my husband yelled through the other side that we have Covid-19. “Covid is bogus!” she yelled back. “No, it’s not!” my husband replied. It’s real, and for many people, it feels nothing like the flu. I learned this the hard way.  This article first appeared on HuffPost PersonalHave a compelling personal story you want to tell? Find out what we’re looking for here, and pitch us on [email protected] from HuffPost UK PersonalI’m A Paramedic. I’ve Seen The Mental Health Toll This Pandemic Is Taking On Us AllI Help Covid Patients Learn To Smell Again. Here’s What I’ve SeenI’m Young And Disabled. Getting A Vaccine Shouldn’t Have Been This Hard
Drip, drip. Drip, drip. Small droplets of blood fall from my finger into the tiny test tube. Pricking myself with the needle was less painful than I’d expected, but gathering the sample is a slow process. The pamphlet tells me it can take 10 to 30 minutes, depending on blood flow, and some women need to prick twice. As I stand alone in my bathroom, afraid to look away in case I spill a drop, the thing that’s keeping me going is the idea this might help answer a big question: when should I have a baby?The hormone test is part of Grip, a new at-home ‘fertility MOT’ launching in the UK on March 1, and it’s designed to rule out the four main risk factors that make it harder for women to get pregnant: ovulation issues (often linked to polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS), blocked fallopian tubes, thyroid issues, and low ovarian reserve – ie. the remaining number of eggs in your ovaries.The test won’t tell you if you will or won’t get pregnant, but it might influence some life choices. “Think of your Grip test as a risk profile, rather than a yes or no answer,” the website tells me. “If you know your risks when you’re still young, then you still have all the options to do something about them.”If you’re not on hormonal birth control, you can send your blood to the Grip lab and be tested for all four conditions for £139. If you’re on the pill, have an IUD or an implant, this skews the first three results, but you can still have your AMH levels checked for £99.AMH is a key indicator of ovarian reserve and for me, it’s the big one: do I have a decent amount of eggs for my age? Should I hurry up with this motherhood malarkey, or can I get away with a delay?I massage my finger to squeeze out another few drops, in a technique the bright orange packaging names “milking”. My face looks pale grey in the bathroom mirror. I secure the test tube lid pronto, then sway to the kitchen for a Jammie Dodger. “How do you feel?!” Grip’s energetic co-founder Anne Marie Droste asks me over the phone later that day. The test had to be carried out first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, then wrapped in protective packaging before being popped in the postbox. It’ll take at least five days until my results are in. “I am a little nervous,” I reply. “It’s one of those things, isn’t it – do I want to know, or is ignorance bliss?”Droste reassures me that’s exactly how she felt before her first hormone test. Two years ago, at the age of 30, she quit her job and was about to embark on an extended round-the-world trip with her boyfriend. Family raised the topic of babies – and whether she planned to “pop home” to pop one out – and for the first time, she felt confronted by her fertility.Unsure if she even wanted kids, Droste who’s originally from the Netherlands, visited her GP. She was told about fertility hormone testing, but advised these tests are usually only given to women who’ve been trying to conceive for a year. The situation is similar here in the UK, where tests are at the discretion of local NHS clinical commissioning groups (and the enthusiasm of your GP).NICE guidelines say a women who’ve “not conceived after one year of unprotected vaginal sexual intercourse... should be offered further clinical assessment and investigation.” The guidelines do not cater for single women who may also want answers, or women in same-sex relationships who’d like to plan future IVF. For these women, the only guaranteed free option is to turn to Google, says Droste, where you’ll find age-based averages on fertility – and not much else.“I think it’s really harmful for women to have to decide things based on national averages,” she says. “There’s nothing that has a bigger impact on our lives and careers and happiness than whether or not we decide to have kids, so it seems really archaic to me that we have to make those decisions in the dark, on our own, without any information.”Wanting answers, Droste paid £600 for tests at a private clinic, which revealed she had a slightly low egg reserve for her age and was considered above average risk for early menopause. She’s since decided to freeze her eggs. “I’m still really not sure if I want kids, but it highlighted that I definitely wanted to have the option of kids,” she says. “Even though it wasn’t the answer I wanted per se, I now know what I’m in for. I understand the risks I’m taking by waiting, rather than being in the dark and pretending everything is probably going to be fine.”When Droste shared her experience with two trusted friends, Noor Teulings (a fertility doctor) and Ling Lin (a product manager, who was single at the time and considering egg freezing), they conceived a bigger idea. “It sounds really lame, but we had lunch that day and decided maybe we should be building a company that allows people like us to have this information,” Droste explains. The trio co-founded Grip in March 2020 and launched in the Netherlands in May, where they’ve already sold 3,000 kits. They expected their core market to be women in their 30s, already trying to conceive but frustrated by the one-year waiting time. Instead, their average user is 28 and curious about her future. She wants to be proactive about her fertility, rather than wait until something is wrong. At 29, I’m a textbook client. “She [the average customer] doesn’t want to have kids for the next few years and is really aware that the last time she learned anything about her hormonal cycle or her body is when she was 16 and in sex ed,” says Droste“It feels like we’re living in this era of hormonal awareness, in which we’re demanding better answers about what’s happening in our bodies. And what’s happening in my body, what’s happening to me personally. We don’t want the average woman’s story.”The packaging has certainly been designed with millennials in mind: bright colours and feminist slogans are accompanied with fun instructions – “Do the Macarena to get your blood flowing to your fingertips!”The message is clear: this is an empowering test, made for empowered women, by empowered women. The test – which you can access after answering a few quick questions online – is the first step in the Grip process. After sending off your blood, you’ll receive your fertility report. You’re then offered a video call with a fertility doctor to discuss what your results mean – and what they don’t. “We can tell you, for example, what your ovarian reserve looks like and if you’re likely to enter early menopause, but we can’t say, for instance, anything about the quality of your eggs, or how long it might take for you to conceive,” explains Droste. You also have the option to be added to a closed forum on the Grip app, with women who’ve had a similar diagnosis to you. Each forum has around 10 members, plus a doctor, who’s there to give general information to the group about next steps, such as diet changes to lower your PCOS risk or egg freezing in the case of low ovarian reserve. “It’s really hard to go through something this emotional on your own, so we’ve really tried to foster this idea of togetherness,” says Droste. “But it’s still overseen by clinical professionals.”It’s advised you discuss any unexpected results with your regular GP, as they’re the ones who’ll need to refer you for future treatment, if it’s required.  Around 40% of tests flag “something that could be worked on” according to Droste. The Grip team call customers three months after their test results to see how they’re getting on. The majority (78%) of customers say they’ve decided to move their baby plans forward. It’s easy to get swept up in Droste’s enthusiasm, but the next day I call Dr Marta Jansa Perez, director of embryology at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), for an independent opinion. She tells me she is not convinced women are fully supported by the service.  “If I’m honest, I’m a bit ambivalent about the whole thing,” she says. “I think in principle it’s good to empower people to asses their fertility so they can plan their lives better. But I’m a bit sceptical about how much people read into the results and how much support they’re really given to interpret those results.”Dr Perez’s biggest concern, is that women are not offered counselling before undergoing tests and the follow-up consultation with a doctor is optional, not  compulsory. The guidelines set out by NICE for fertility services stipulate that counselling should be offered “before, during and after investigation and treatment, irrespective of the outcome of these procedures”. “The worry for me is that people will get the report and not take it any further,” she says. “Interpreting these results... it’s so nuanced and so tricky and delicate and it has such huge implications for people’s major life decisions, that I think a kit like this can be a bit misleading, really.” Conditions such as PCOS can’t be properly diagnosed without a scan, says Dr Perez. You could also be told you have a good ovarian reserve, only for it to rapidly drop later. The tests have the potential to give both false cause for concern, and false complacency. “This has the potential to have long-term consequences for people, have mental health effects, or effects fertility health wise,” she says. “There’s no certainty behind any of these tests. Ongoing support is very important – not just one chat over the phone. People need to have a chance to discuss things on a long-term basis.” The British Fertility Society also urges caution around AMH testing packaged as ‘fertility MOTs’ – pointing out that these tests were originally developed to inform decisions around IVF treatment, not assess your natural fertility. “Many women with low ovarian reserve will conceive without any problems whilst others with a good ovarian reserve may take time and need fertility treatment,” it says. Dr Perez further points out that in heterosexual couples, struggles to conceive come from the man around 30% of the time – but this isn’t emphasised on Grip’s site. “It’s a bit like those genetic profiling tests that people are doing,” she says. “You see a snapshot of your genetic background, but essentially they have no further implications. I think it’s a bit two dimensional, it’s not holistic enough.”Some medical professionals raised these concerns when Grip launched in the Netherlands, says Droste, but she stands by her system. “In healthcare in general, there’s this historical tendency of needing to coddle women. And this idea of us needing to protect women from information – even though I think it’s really well intended – it’s actually really harmful,” she says. “For some reason, I’m assumed to be smart and have a career and I’m allowed to take my entire income to a casino or the stock market. Yet when it comes to medically validated data about my body, suddenly people think I’m going to turn really erratic and won’t be able to make any reasonable choices based on that data.“I think it’s time the medical community recognises women for being rational about their bodies.”Droste concedes the test isn’t for everyone and believes women who are on the fence about testing should feel able to talk it through with an independent counsellor or GP. “I’m not trying to diminish the fact that yes, we should create spaces where it’s emotionally safe to think about this and it isn’t for everyone,” she says. “For some people, it will cause them to be scared and they definitely shouldn’t test.”........................Five days later, my phone lights up. “Hi Rachel, it’s Anne Marie from Grip...” My thumb hovers over the screen before I open the message. It turns out to be pretty anticlimactic. There’s been a mix up with my test and they don’t have enough blood to give me an accurate result. The instructions incorrectly told me to fill the tube until my blood reached the line – as is the case with the tubes in the Netherlands. But the British tubes are smaller and need filling to the top. These things happen, when you’re using a preview prototype, and the instructions will be reprinted before the launch.My first reaction? Relief. It takes me by surprise.Droste offers to send me a new kit with the amended instructions, but I decline the offer – for now. The voices of the two women have been whirring around my head all week. I need more time to process everything they’ve said. And that’s my biggest issue with Grip: you don’t talk to another human being about the implications of taking this test until you’ve already sent them a vial of your blood. When you finally get to the company’s doctor, they’re hardly impartial. Would the results have felt empowering for me? Or more confusing? I’m unsure – and I want to feel certain about that if and when I decide to take the test again. I completely agree with Droste’s feminist rationale in theory, but theory is not enough for something so undeniably and emotionally charged. One thing is clear, though: I’ve learned no test can tell you when to have a baby.   READ MORE:More Single Women Are Having Fertility Treatment Alone – Here's WhyNot-For-Profit Fertility Clinic Set To Launch For Those Denied NHS IVFWhat I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before I Decided To Freeze My EggsHow It Feels To Have Your IVF Paused For A YearBaby Boom – Or Bust? How Covid Will Impact Birth Rates In 2021
This is part of a series by HuffPost UK about county lines drug dealing in Britain.For decades, children and young people have been used and exploited through a drug distribution model known as “county lines” – and it has evolved under lockdown.County lines are drug networks engineered by gangs and organised criminal networks that export illegal substances – typically heroin and crack cocaine – between the growing market in suburban areas and larger cities.The “lines” are both the dedicated mobile phone lines and the physical geographical and transport routes that connect dealers and users.Gangs exploit children and vulnerable adults to transport and store the drugs and sometimes money, often using coercion and intimidation tactics – as well as violence and sexual abuse – to keep them in line.How big a problem is it?The phenomenon has existed since the 1990s, at least, and was once simply referred to as “going to country”.A recent assessment suggests there are more than 1,000 lines in operation nationally while investigators say a typical “line” will generate in the region of £2,000 to £3,000 per day.How do young people get caught up in it?Young people exploited in this way are usually trafficked to areas a long way from home as part of a gang’s narcotics network. Children as young as nine are being coaxed into this illicit web. The methods vary from chicken shop grooming to being approached outside school gates. It is not uncommon for some to be initially approached by peers, who have themselves been groomed and exploited, which can make it even harder for them or indeed anyone observing to identify the risks without knowing the signs.The first concrete sign that something is wrong is when they go missing – for hours and days at first, then for weeks and months at a time, and sometimes forever.But by then they may have been caught up for more than a year.Sadia Ali and Aisha Ahmed at north London charity Minority Matters – with whom HuffPost UK has produced this series – say young people will have been told by their groomers to act out at school, which eventually results in their expulsion. This removes a safety net and distracts parents and teachers from what is really being done by groomers.Baffled authorities and worried families have no idea where to find them, while police turn mothers away for help if their child is over 18, HuffPost UK has been told. Then what?Children and young people will spend increasing amounts of time away from home, travelling up and down the “line” on the train or – increasingly – using minicabs to avoid detection. One mother we spoke to found train tickets in her son’s pockets for places she had no idea he had been.They may be enticed into the activity with the promise of a lucrative lifestyle, then set up by the line leaders in staged “robberies” of drugs, and told to work for free indefinitely to pay off this “debt”. This, along with the threat of violence to them or their family, make it hard or impossible to escape the cycle, even if they are physically brought home.In some cases, the adult “line” leaders or child drug dealers will take up residence in a property at one end of the line, often belonging to a vulnerable person, and use it to operate their criminal activity – a move called “cuckooing”. Children ferry contraband to and from these properties.In the final instalment of this series, to be published on Tuesday, we spoke exclusively to the mother of Abdi Ali, who was found dead at one of these houses after eight months missing.HuffPost UK has teamed up with grassroots charity Minority Matters to lay bare the harsh realities of county lines, how it tears families apart, and how authorities have proved powerless or unwilling to pursue the real solutions that could end it.Who does it affect?Campaigners have warned that any child can be groomed for criminal exploitation. It affects boys and girls, children from families that experience a range of issues as well those from stable and economically better off families.In London, Black boys are disproportionately impacted by this crisis and some campaigners argue that this is a direct result of the authorities’ failure to protect them combined with institutional racism.Cheryl Phoenix, founder of the Black Child Agenda, speaks of what she calls the “schools-to-prison pipeline”.“County lines are the after-effect of what’s going on with the education system and the discrimination against Black families in particular. Black children are 168 times more likely to be excluded from school – so with that exclusion that means you have children on the streets. If they’re on the streets that means they’re easily accessible by these gangs. The majority of these young people on the road have been permanently excluded from schools.”The leaders of county lines deliberately deploy white youth to transport drugs to certain areas because of a decreased likelihood of them being stopped and searched by police, HuffPost UK has heard.But for Black children, the flip side is that when they are caught police and authorities are “less likely to see them as victims” and “do not do enough to look for the groomers, the people at the top of the illegal enterprise”. One mother whose son is being exploited through county lines told us vulnerable youth are being criminalised instead of supported.“The police are not arresting the masterminds behind the county lines – just our kids who are stuck in this vicious cycle after being groomed by these gangs. They see no way out because their lives are threatened, and their families’, if they leave,” she said.“So they get caught by the police, serve time, are released then forced to go back to the gang because they feel they have no choice. They are released to the streets, the same place and the environment overrun with the same people that exploit them.”Another parent added: “The children going through this, seeing the desperation in their eyes means they’re either going to die somebody on the streets or kill somebody on the streets. What can a parent do?”How has Covid changed things?Even as the Covid-19 outbreak has brought the world to a standstill, campaigners warn the pandemic is pushing county lines violence from the UK’s large cities to smaller towns.In November, charity representatives told a committee of MPs that the grooming tactics of gangs had evolved in response to enhanced policing in large cities over lockdown.Speaking at a virtual All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Knife Crime meeting, former Islington Council education chief Joe Caluori – who now works at crime and justice consultancy Crest Advisory – said the “pattern of exploitation” was becoming more focused in “seaside and market towns”.Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan told the APPG vulnerable children targeted by county lines were feeling a “poverty of hope” because they “don’t dare believe in a positive future” and that “Covid-19 has made it much much worse”.He said: “There are even more vulnerable young people now who are easy prey for exploitative gangs. Child criminal exploitation hasn’t stopped during Covid-19 – it’s adapted.”Lockdown has meant under-18s no longer have the relative cover of going to schools, says Aisha Ahmed, development manager for Minority Matters.“Parents struggling with children missing or on remand have nowhere to go, as there are no face-to-face services provided by statutory and voluntary agencies,” she said.“More children and young people are being caught hundreds of miles from home, distressed and with mental health problems. Although police are seeing evidence of abuse, via producing drugs plugged in their body whilst in custody, they’re keen to process them as criminals and prosecute them."More than 30,000 young people had been referred to the See, Hear, Respond programme led by Barnardo’s and funded by the Department for Education to help children and parents who were experiencing increased adversity during coronavirus.The APPG heard anonymous audio clips of young people recorded by the Barnardo’s Routes service which helps children at risk of serious violence, saying they wanted “a new life away from bad people” and they were “terrified” of gangs.Safeguarding minister Victoria Atkins told the committee the Home Office had invested a “£25m package” in responding to county lines issues.What drives it?In short, money and narcotics.Ahmed told us: “The root cause of knife crime and children being groomed and exploited is for profits from hard core drugs – heroin and cocaine. Children and young people neither bring in the drugs into the country, nor are the beneficiaries of what police call the ‘Night Economy’ – however, they are paying with their lives.“As long as there is a growing demand for these drugs, there’ll be a supply. Thus, children will be used and abused unless they’re protected by the government, by having a national strategy to address the illegal demand and supply of drugs. No child is safe unless this is addressed at the national level.”So what needs to be done?The question of how the drugs are getting onto the streets remains. Neither the children who are being turned into mules nor the on-the-ground line leaders control the borders. Just weeks ago, a £21m haul of heroin that was hidden inside bags of rice was seized from a container ship at a UK port.The National Crime Agency said the seizure is one of the largest ever of heroin in the UK. Even though the container ship was destined for the Netherlands, it is highly likely its cargo could have ultimately ended up on UK streets as well as mainland Europe.Ahmed said: “The Conservative government has lost the war on drugs, and consequently, on crime. They have been in government long enough to do something about the issues.“It is easy to target young people, often groomed and criminally exploited from a young age, and use them to bolster the statistics to show that people are getting apprehended.“The simple truth is, the billions of pounds from drugs trade aren’t going to these young children. They are often, as recognised by the government itself, slaves in the trade. It is hard to believe that the government is unable to trace the money, or even the drugs coming into the UK.“With all the security focused statutory bodies in this country, we know that the know-how and resources are there. It is high time they were put to good use. The government has the power to pull levers, and create a specialised, policy driven response to this issue. Setting up funding schemes and leaving it to charities isn’t the answer.”
This is part of a series by HuffPost UK about county lines drug dealing in Britain.Drugs are at the heart of county lines activity. The narcotics market is worth an estimated £9.4bn a year in the UK. About three million people took drugs in England and Wales in 2019, with around 300,000 in England taking the most harmful: opiates and/or crack cocaine.In the first three months of lockdown alone, drug offences rose by 27% across England and Wales despite total recorded crime dropping by a quarter.Sadia Ali is the founder of grassroots north London charity Minority Matters, supporting families whose children are trafficked by county lines gangs.Through Minority Matters, HuffPost UK is telling the stories of families torn apart by county lines and the charity’s campaign for stronger, more targeted action by the authorities.“It’s been a tough nine months,” Ali told HuffPost UK. “The number of young people who are being imprisoned as a result of the drugs market – it is unprecedented.”So what are the drugs that drive county lines, and how are they moved around the country? Here’s what you need to know.The customers are mainly rich or middle-class white people“Young people are caught with heroin and cocaine which they’re selling to middle-class users who consume it just as they would have a glass of wine on a Friday night,” said Ali.“I wonder whether they know how it got to them – how much the young person delivering has been abused to provide their fix. Is there any consciousness?”London mayor Sadiq Khan has blasted people who take cocaine at “middle-class parties” believing it to be a victimless crime. MP David Lammy and Met Police chief Cressida Dick have expressed similar views.London-based substance misuse worker Adam Johnson* told HuffPost UK the county lines’ target market is “older white guys”. He said: “These days crack and heroin isn’t taken by young people because they don’t want to become a ‘nitty’ – that’s why at the moment we have an epidemic of deaths within the drug-taking population.” The drug of choice for young dealers, he said, is often weed. It seems to be a myth that dealers don’t touch drugs themselves: many of the mothers we spoke to for this series spoke of their sons smoking weed, for instance.“The Class A population are these guys in their 30s and 40s who started in the 1980s and ’90s and never stopped,” Johnson added. “They get to the age of 40 or 50 and can’t take this any more, then just die off.”One young drug dealer who Johnson works with told of how a county line near Essex is known as “Treasure Island” because the typically white, rich, male buyers pay cash and there’s “no hassle”.How do they get the drugs in the first place?In the UK, getting high is as easy as ordering a takeaway.In fact, evidence suggests this is exactly how customers have been accessing drugs during lockdown – through dealers posing as Deliveroo staff, as well as couriers and nurses, to carry out illegal activity undetected by authorities. Similar stories have been told by police chiefs across the UK including Scotland Yard commissioner Cressida Dick.“Larger drug organisations are weathering the Covid-19 storm,” said Niko Vorobyov – the author of the book Dopeworld on the global war on drugs, and a former drug dealer. “Massive coke shipments are still coming through the major European ports from South America, hidden in boxes of fruit; after all, you can still buy bananas.”What’s the impact?Drug deaths have reached an all-time high and the market has become much more violent. Taking the health harms, costs of crime and wider impacts on society together, the government estimates the total cost of drugs to society are over £19bn, which is more than twice the value of the market itself.But there’s an enormous human impact for those caught up in the trade, too, as our reports of broken families and missing children make all too clear.Nick Titchener, director at leading London criminal defence solicitors Lawtons, said young people thrust onto the front line of drug dealing operations often become addicted to drugs themselves or end up in court facing prosecution for a conviction.For those at the head of organised crime groups, it is not uncommon that sentences can be in the region of nine or 10 years in prison, he added, while the “runners” who are responsible for moving the drugs over and within the county lines, depending on their seniority and circumstances, often face sentencing ranging from two to five years’ imprisonment. “Where the ‘runner’ is particularly vulnerable or young, the court is obliged to consider that level of exploitation as a factor that can properly reduce the sentence, and there are occasions when there is evidence of human trafficking,” Titchener told Huffpost UK.“There has been a noted historical imbalance in the justice system for those caught up in such activity – research from the Sentencing Council on cases between 2012 and 2015 found that Black and ethnic minority people are more likely to be imprisoned for drug offences than white defendants who had committed similar crimes. “Our key aim with these cases is to work with the young people who are often ultimately the victims in these operations to provide a fair outcome for each case, regardless of their ethnicity.” What drugs are sold and what do they cost?Drugs usually come in one of three forms: raw plants (such as cannabis), refined plants (like heroin or cocaine) and synthetic substances (like ecstasy).Heroin, also known as brownThis imported substance is typically sold as a white or brownish powder from around £20 per bag. It’s made from morphine which is taken from the seed pod of the opium poppy plants grown in Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. It is grown in around 50 countries and usually reaches the UK from places including Turkey and Iran.MDMA, also known as molly or ecstasyThis man-made substance is usually imported too from countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands. Widely regarded as a “party drug”, it often comes in the form of powder and pills, sold for as little as £10 per capsule.Cocaine (crack and powder), also known as whitePeople often buy powder cocaine alongside other recreational drugs such as ecstasy and amphetamines. It comes in the form of powder or “rocks”, which are processed with ammonia or baking soda plus water, then heated. It is imported from countries such as Colombia and Peru. On the UK streets, a rock of crack cocaine is priced from upwards of £10, and a gram of powder cocaine for upwards of £30.Amphetamines or speedThis normally comes in the form of a white powder and sells for upwards of £5 a gram. It is imported from countries such as Morocco and Spain.CannabisThousands of Vietnamese children are trafficked into the UK and forced to work for criminal gangs running cannabis factories on our doorsteps. These drugs are then distributed and sold. This fuels a black market in cannabis that is worth £2.6bn, according to a report from the Institute of Economic Affairs. It is sold from £20 per quarter ounce upwards.A specific strain of weed, known as “skunk”, is most prevalent in the UK. This is a strong form of cannabis specifically grown to have high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the chemical that provides the high.“In natural cannabis, THC is about 4%. In street cannabis – skunk – it’s about 30%. So it’s the difference between a bottle of vodka and a bottle of beer,” Johnson said.  SpiceSpice is a plant-based mix laced with synthetic chemicals. It is usually produced in the UK. The prices for this vary depending on what city you’re in, from £20 for 3.5g in Manchester to £30 to £60 for the same amount in London.Are dealers loaded, then?Despite the multi-million-pound industry of illegal drug sales, it’s not as though all the young people selling the substances and getting arrested actually make lots of money. They’re enticed into the activity with the promise of a lucrative lifestyle, then often set up by the line leaders in staged “robberies” of drugs, and told to work for free indefinitely to pay off this “debt”. It is not uncommon for line leaders to force vulnerable trafficked dealers into performing sex acts, video them, and use the footage to blackmail them into continuing to sell illegal substances.When did the industry start?Johnson said: “Drugs have always been there – it’s just that the different types of drugs change and the laws change. Queen Victoria used to take bloody cocaine and cannabis but in those days because it was in the rich population it wasn’t an issue. It’s only when the poor population starts getting involved, or taking the same drugs, that becomes an issue.”David Thompson*, a 50-year-old white man from Northamptonshire, told HuffPost UK of his drug dealing exploits in the 1990s when ecstasy pills and speed – or “whizz” – was consumed “like M&Ms”.  “I was around 20 years old at the time,” he said. “I started dealing in the illegal rave scene like so many others then after five years I gave up, then dabbled again for a while then gave up again and so it went on.“Coke was too expensive back then so it didn’t get sold much; I only sold to mates to make a few quid.”What’s the solution?Referring to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 as “a shit piece of legislation”, Johnson is calling for the legalisation of all drugs.“If you look at it in an intelligent way like Portugal – if you legalise personal use of drugs you can then treat addiction as a medical issue rather than locking people away; if you lock someone away with a cannabis problem then they come out with a crack problem. If you prohibit use of cannabis, the only thing you get on road is the really strong stuff which creates mental health issues and physical dependencies.”Vorobyov, who’s also a former drug dealer, echoes this call.He said: “When someone like me says drugs should be legal, we don’t mean all drugs, all the time. I don’t think scoring crystal meth from your local corner shop is a good idea.“First of all, all drugs should be decriminalised. When police say they’re trying to help you, in most cases that means they’re trying to help you to a cell. Ultimately, that helps no one.“The police waste time they could be solving rapes and robberies. Young people get profiled and picked on and then we’re surprised when the riots kick off. And hardcore addicts – well, why do you think a pair of handcuffs will stop them if they face life-threatening overdoses every day?“Add to that, prohibition provides a motive for addicts to shoplift, and Mexican narco kingpins to dissolve their enemies in tubs of acid. People get poisoned with poor-quality product. The whole thing’s just a fucking mess. If the war on drugs wasn’t meant to keep us safe but make it wildly more dangerous, it’s succeeded admirably.“Cannabis should be sold in special shops or dispensaries like Amsterdam or California. Heroin should be given on prescription, like it is in Switzerland and other European countries. Something like cocaine is a bit more tricky because it really is toxic, but you know, back when Sigmund Freud was sniffing it, it was legal, and society didn’t collapse, even if he did say some weird things about his mum.”
Mental health is an important concern, especially during a raging global pandemic.People are forced to stay indoors, limit their interactions with loved ones, and face all manner of uncertainties on their own.
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