A report into gangs and youth crime by the Commons home affairs committee says anti-gang prevention work in all schools, including primary schools, needs to be increased to reflect that "children as young as seven are at risk of gang involvement".
Among many recommendations is a call to expand primary school anti-gang education programmes.
Sheldon Thomas, chief executive of anr anti-crime group, Gangsline, told MPs that the key time to build resilience among young people to prevent them joining gangs is between seven and 11.
He told MPs how primary school pupils in some areas are earning £40 a week selling drugs. By the time they are 15 they can expect to earn up to £500 a week through drug dealing for gangs.
Committee chair Keith Vaz MP said: “Children as young as seven are at risk of gang involvement and it is at this very young age that intervention must take place before the situation spirals out of control. Early prevention programmes are vital and primary school anti-gang education programmes in particular should be expanded.”
Committee members said the Home Office had “failed to effectively evaluate” its £10m Ending Gang and Youth Violence programme. In calling for better measurement of anti-gang initiatives MPs also want to see more research into effective methods of combating sexual exploitation in gangs.
According to research from the Office of the Children's Commissioner for England there are 2,409 children and young people subject to sexual exploitation in gangs and an estimated further 16,500 children are at risk.
MPs also want to see every chief constable appoint a lead officer responsible for supporting gang members at risk of sexual exploitation as well as co-ordinate training and mentoring to prevent gang crime.