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Late intervention still costing councils £6.4bn per year, but spending profile shifts

It is still costing local councils £6.4bn a year to deal with damaging social problems which might have been addressed more cheaply earlier on, a new report has revealed.

The Early Intervention Foundation’s (EIF’s) most recent analysis found that nearly £17bn a year is spent in England and Wales on ‘late intervention’ for problems such as domestic abuse, unemployment and youth crime, with the largest share borne by local authorities.

While the estimated total cost of £17bn has stayed the same for the second year running, the EIF discovered that its profile has changed, with the cost of domestic violence rising by £1.2bn and expenditure on benefits for young NEETs (not in education, employment or training) falling by £1.1bn. Local authorities appear to be paying £100m less than last year, a possible result of cuts in council budgets.

Carey Oppenheim, chief executive of the foundation, said: “The increase in recorded cases of domestic violence and abuse, and the costs associated with that, are especially worrying given everything we know about the impact of family violence and conflict upon children. We know effective early help has the potential to improve outcomes and reduce the need for late intervention.

“We hope this analysis will stimulate renewed discussions, locally and nationally, about how to better support vulnerable children and families.”

The figures published by the EIF only include the cost of acute services – such as hospitalisation, incarceration and benefits – and do not include the longer-term social costs. However, the foundation argued that acute services are inevitably more expensive than early intervention.

The largest individual cost for councils is children in care, which costs around £5.3bn a year. The LGA noted that funding for early intervention services has fallen by 56% in the last five years, and the increase in demand for child protection was putting a considerable strain on services.

Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “There needs to be an urgent reform of how funding is allocated across the range of early intervention services to encourage joint working, savings and avoid duplication.

“This will allow councils to further build support around the needs of families and shift the emphasis from crisis spending towards longer term prevention services.”

Northamptonshire’s PCC, Stephen Mold, commented on the figures, saying that spending in his region on late intervention far outweighs the county’s total police budget. He urged councils to consider the scale of this “reactive need” when problems can be addressed earlier on.  

“If we truly want to succeed in reducing crime and increasing the life chances of people in our society, we need to better tackle the root causes by intervening at the earliest opportunity,” Mold said.

“We know that crime is cyclical and that adverse childhood experiences significantly increase the chances of youngsters becoming involved in crime throughout their lives. We need to better tackle the origins of crime, rather than simply react to problems when they arise.”

The EIF’s report found that the amount spent on late intervention varies significantly across England – from as low as £164 per person to as high as £531 – and is partially linked to the level of deprivation in an area.

It also identified an urban/rural split, with urban areas more likely to have higher levels of deprivation and greater late intervention spending than rural areas.


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