Late intervention efforts cost local government £6.5bn annually

Failing to intervene early to protect young people from the impact of damaging social problems is costing the government £17bn a year, with councils picking up the largest share, according to new research.

The new Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) analysis shows council services (£6.5bn) are having to pick up the largest share of the national late intervention spend – followed by welfare costs of £3.7bn and the NHS at £3bn

It also revealed that the local government share is the largest because it reflects the costs of child protection and safeguarding, including over £5bn per year on Looked After Children. However, it also includes significant costs associated with persistent absence from school and the consequences of domestic violence.

An estimated further £4bn a year is spent on benefits for 18-24-year-olds not in education, employment or training (NEET) with another £900m spent helping young people suffering from mental health issues or battling drug and alcohol problems.

The EIF said the latest figures demonstrate that public services need 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.

Carey Oppenheim, EIF chief executive, said: “Reaching children and families earlier is not only right for children and young people, it is right for the economy too.

“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.”

Responding to the research, Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people board, said councils recognise that investing in early intervention improves the life chances of young people and results in cost savings to the public purse later on

“But the trouble is that funding streams based on departmental silos mean that too often the savings from investment by one agency are recouped by another, resulting in disincentives to invest in early intervention,” he said.

“Rather than an incentivised fund which councils would have to use much-needed resource bidding for, it is essential that this money is available flexibly to local communities where it can be most effectively put to us.”

A spokesman for the Department of Education added that the government had introduced a number of policies to “make sure every child gets the best start in life” including increasing early intervention funding and introducing free early education for disadvantaged two year olds.

He said: “We give councils the freedom to use their funding to meet the needs of young people in their area. We know the best councils take advantage of this to look for innovative ways to intervene and avoid problems later on.

“The earlier we can tackle issues the better, but this must be based on clear evidence. This is precisely why we set up the Early Intervention Foundation to advise on how best to respond to this challenge.”

Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of Action for Children, added that the research puts a hard figure on the cost of waiting too long to help children and young people.

He added that all of us, whether politician, public services or charities need to concentrate on providing targeted early support to children and young people. “In many cases, this is the only way they will reach their potential.”

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