Early intervention with children could prevent £17bn government bill

A UK charity dedicated to improving the lives of children and preventing future social problems has revealed the Government pays £17bn a year to deal with damaging social problems affecting young people. Our feature write, Suzanne Danon, explores the issue.

The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) has undertaken research which shows social problems affecting children and young people such as mental health problems, going into care, unemployment and youth crime had resulted in the £17bn bill. Almost a third of this bill comes from the annual £5bn spent on looking after children in care. A further £4bn is spent on benefits for 18-24 year olds not in education, employment or training (NEET).

The EIF said an urgent change was needed to address the ‘root causes’ of problems, rather than individuals and society being left to bear ‘the excessive cost of failure’ later on. EIF chief executive Carey Oppenheim urged the next government to place the next generation of children, young people and their families at the heart of its policies.

“Early intervention is about helping a child before they go into care, commit a crime or are excluded from school,” she said.

“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.”

The EIF is aware of the pressures on councils due to reduced funding from government and an increased demand for elderly social care, but is encouraging greater co-ordination across Whitehall, local agencies and local communities to ensure existing funding is better spent through pooled budgets. More joined up commissioning which focuses on children’s outcomes has also been called for.

This move to early intervention will according to the EIF, result in huge cuts to the £17bn annual bill and will transform children’s lives.

Ms Oppenheim added: “Our research 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.”

The EIF has made the following calls to whoever forms the next government:

  • Use more effective Early Intervention to target reducing the cost of late intervention on public services by 10 per cent – £1.7 billion – by 2020;
  • Redirect funding and inefficient spending into a dedicated and ring-fenced Early Intervention Investment Fund tied to the life of the next Parliament. Supplemented by private sector capital such as social investment, the money would be awarded to councils, healthcare providers, schools, voluntary groups and other organisations with ambitious plans to redesign local services around effective Early Intervention;
  • Make prevention and Early Intervention a key theme of its spending plans by finding out what is being spent on Early Intervention, how it is being used, and how it helps children and families. Only then can we start to shift resources into earlier and more effective support.

Are you involved in early intervention work? What would your calls be on the next government? We'd love to hear your views.

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