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The cost of late intervention: EIF analysis 2016

Early intervention is about identifying and responding to signals of risk for children and families before problems become more difficult to reverse, from conception to young adulthood. Early intervention approaches which have strong evidence of impact have the potential to reduce the likelihood of poor long‐term outcomes for children. This not only benefits children now and in the future, but also wider society and the economy.

The Cost of Late Intervention: EIF analysis 2016 updates the analysis we published last year.1 Its focus is on the immediate and short‐run fiscal costs of what we call ‘late intervention’: the acute, statutory and essential benefits and services that are required when children and young people experience significant difficulties in life, many of which might have been prevented.

The headline is that late intervention continues to be expensive. In England and Wales, we spend nearly £17 billion per year – nearly £300 per person – on the damaging problems that affect children and young people such as domestic violence and abuse, child neglect and maltreatment, mental health problems, youth crime and exclusion from education and the labour market. While this figure is substantial, it is only the immediate fiscal so does not capture any lasting effects into adult life and sometimes into the next generation, nor the wider social and economic costs.

While the estimated total cost remains unchanged, our latest analysis shows that its profile has changed. For example, we now estimate that a fiscal cost of £5.2 billion is associated with cases of domestic violence and abuse, driven by a 6 per cent increase in recorded cases. However, the cost of criminal justice for children and young people is lower, driven by reductions in the youth justice system caseload and the number of recorded incidents of anti‐social behaviour. Better economic conditions and lower unemployment rates have in part led to an estimated £1 billion reduction in the amount spent on benefits for young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEETs).

Not all expenditure on late intervention can be prevented. For some children and young people, periods in residential care or receiving specialist treatment for acute mental health problems will be the best solution available. But many of these children and young people might have had a different journey if they and their families had received effective help at an earlier time.This report also examines where the cost late intervention currently falls. The £17 billion is spread across different public agencies at national and local level, from local authorities, the NHS, schools, welfare, police to the criminal justice system. Local authorities bear the largest share at £6.4 billion, followed by the NHS with £3.7 billion and the Department for Work and Pensions with £2.7 billion.

The amount spent on late intervention varies significantly across England and Wales. Using spend per person in each local authority as a basis for comparison, we find that this is £298 on average but can be as low as £164 or as high as £531, with higher levels of late intervention spending more likely to found in areas with higher levels of deprivation. Rural areas are more likely to show lower levels of both late intervention spend and deprivation, while urban areas are more likely to show higher levels of both.

While we do not think that the demand for late intervention spend can ever be brought down to zero, nor should it be, this data shows that there is more work to do to provide effective early intervention to children and families who need it. We hope this analysis will prompt renewed discussions at local and national level about how agencies can work together to limit demand for high‐cost, statutory responses by moving resources upstream, spotting early signs of risk in children and families, and providing effective support where and when it is needed.

If we are serious about tackling injustice and increasing social mobility for children and families, investment in effective early intervention should be targeted in particular on service areas where spending on late intervention is high. In some local areas, this analysis is catalysing a more preventative approach to commissioning services through increased local pooling of resources across agencies, integration of services and improved joint action that can result from a hard local analysis of these numbers.