Cost of tackling social problems too late costs £17bn a year

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A move from late to early intervention would save the Government billions of pounds a year, suggests new research.


The EIF conference, from left to right, education secretary Nicky Morgan, Carey Oppenheim, chief executive of the EIF, 4Children's chief executive Anne Longfield and MP Graham Allen

According to an analysis by the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF), ‘picking up the pieces’ from damaging social problems affecting children and young people such as mental health problems, going into care, unemployment and youth crime costs the Government almost £17 billion a year.

Of this, £5 billion is spent on looking after children in care, while an estimated additional £4 billion a year is spent on benefits for 18-24-year-olds not in education, employment or training (NEET), and another £900 million on helping young people suffering from mental health issue or battling addictions.

The analysis, ‘Spending on late intervention: how we can do better for less’, was launched at the EIF’s first national conference that took place yesterday in London.

The EIF, which is chaired by MP Graham Allen, says the figures demonstrate that public services needs to ‘urgently’ shift towards addressing the root causes of problems rather than individuals and society being left to bear the excessive cost of failure later down the line.

It claims that moving from late to early spending would not only make a serious contribution to balancing the nation’s books in the long-term, by reducing pressures on health services and the welfare system, but would also transform children’s lives and help break inter-generational cycles of disadvantage.

However, the analysis warns that demand for social care and other council statutory services, along with reduced Government funding, means that local early intervention services are under pressure.

The EIF is now calling on the next Government to use early intervention more effectively to reduce the cost of late intervention on public services. It estimates that through this approach, £1.7 billion could be saved by 2020.

It also wants prevention and early intervention to be a key theme of the Government’s spending plans, and for funding and inefficient spending redirected into a dedicated and ring-fenced early intervention investment fund tied to the life of the next Parliament.

The fund would be supplemented by private sector capital and awarded to councils, healthcare providers, schools, voluntary groups and other organisations with ‘ambitious’ plans to re-design local services around effective early intervention.

Carey Oppenheim, chief executive of the Early Intervention Foundation, said, ‘Early intervention is about helping a child before they go into care, commit a crime or are excluded from school. It is also about developing children’s social and emotional skills and resilience to enable them to navigate life’s difficulties.

‘Reaching children and families earlier is not only right for children and young people, it is right for the economy too.

‘Our analysis lays bare how much the Government spends each year tackling the social problems that early intervention is designed to prevent. Yet our public services remain increasingly geared towards picking up the pieces from the harmful and costly consequences of failure. As a nation, this is something we can no longer afford to ignore.

‘Whoever forms the next government must place the next generation of children, young people and their families at the heart of its policies. A long-term national and local commitment to prioritising and investing in early intervention will not only save money but will give children the best chance of thriving.’

Speaking at the EIF conference, education secretary Nicky Morgan, said, ‘Early intervention has been a real priority for the Government over recent years - and it’s a personal priority and a passion for me too.

'Within the Department for Education, our reforms around childcare and the early years will mean that thousands more families will have access to high-quality and affordable early education, and thousands more children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds get the chance they need to start school on an equal footing with their better-off peers.’

She added, ‘Intervening early, rather than just reacting when problems are already getting worse is, put simply, the best way to prevent the serious personal, societal, and financial costs that poor mental health can cause.'

Delegates also put questions to an expert panel chaired by the EIF's founding chair Graham Allen MP, with Tim Loughton MP, Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, Baroness Claire Tyler, chair of Cafcass and Sir Tony Hawkhead, CEO of Action for Children.

During his speech, Tristram Hunt, shadow education secretary, said that the argument behind early intervention was ‘incontestable’ and that a Labour government would put all its effort into supporting families.

He pledged that a Labour Government would ‘revive and re-energise Labour’s Sure Start programme’, and reiterated Ed Miliband's policy announcement earlier in the day that the entire education budget and the early intervention grant would be ringfenced in real terms under a Labour Government.

Mr Hunt said, ‘It is an early intervention in investment in securing this country’s future...We know that effective early intervention does not just begin at the age of two. Those first two years of a child’s life are the most important of all in child development. We will commit to proper protection of our Sure Start centres because anything less would be a betrayal to our enduring commitment of the emancipatory powers of early years education.’


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