Late intervention services ‘continue to cost public purse £17bn’

17 Nov 16

Failure to prevent damaging social problems such as domestic violence, abuse, unemployment and youth crime costs the public sector around £17bn a year in England and Wales, according to the Early Intervention Foundation.

In an analysis, the organisation revealed that the cost of failing to intervene soon enough is around £287 per person – roughly the same as previous figure, although the breakdown has changed.

The Cost of Late Intervention: EIF analysis 2016 focuses on the short-term cost to the public purse of paying for statutory benefits and services that are needed when children and young people experience difficulties, many of which could have been prevented. 

Local government is picking up the largest share (£6.4bn) of the national late intervention bill, followed by the NHS (£3.7bn) and the Department of Work and Pensions (welfare costs of £2.7bn). The rest is covered by the police, and the education and justice sectors.

The foundation said some of this expenditure represents a missed opportunity to support a child or family before a problem becomes entrenched. Therefore, breaking down the cost of late intervention helps to identify the opportunities for targeted investment in preventing problems before they occur.

The largest cost is looked-after children, at £5.3bn. However, of particular concern according was the estimated £5.2bn associated with cases of domestic violence and abuse. This figure has risen £4bn since last year, due to an increase of 6% in recorded cases.

However, report did reveal a positive trend, in that expenditure on benefits for 18-24 year olds were down for £3.7bn to £2.6bn.

“EIF’s latest analysis shows that the cost of late intervention remains high, at nearly £17 billion a year across England and Wales,” EIF chief executive Carey Oppenheim said. “We hope this analysis will stimulate renewed discussions, locally and nationally, about how to better support vulnerable children and families.

“Our figures also show how the financial cost varies across issues, agencies and local areas; this should help ensure that the right partners are around the table and that their investment is targeted appropriately.”

The amount spent on late intervention varies significantly between local authorities. On average, the level of spending per authority is £298, but could be as low as £164 and as high as £531.

According to the analysis, this can be linked to the level of depravation in that area. An urban/rural split was also revealed – rural areas are more likely to show lower levels of late intervention and deprivation than urban areas.

Responding to the report, Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said councils have long recognised the importance of investing in preventative services.

“Early intervention work with children and their families helps to limit the need for children to enter the care system, improves performance at school and helps avoid mental health issues in later life,” he stated.

But the significant increase in demand for child protection services over recent years placed a considerable strain on children’s social care services, Watts said.

The LGA’s Autumn Statement submission predicted a £1.9bn funding gap by 2020, while funding for early intervention has also fallen by 56% per cent in the last five years, he said.

Watts called for an urgent reform of how funding is allocated across the range of early intervention services to encourage joint working, make 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.”

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