Investing in early intervention and universal services for children and families would save the UK economy £486bn over the next 20 years and improve child well-being, it is claimed.
A report published today by Action for Children and think-tank the New Economics Foundation (NEF) said the UK had the poorest record in Europe for almost every preventable social problem due to a failure to invest in preventive services as Denmark, Finland and Sweden do.
£4,000bn cost of social problems over two decades
It predicted the costs of problems such as crime, mental illness, family breakdown and drug abuse would total £4,000bn over the next 20 years.
However, it said investment in a 10-year programme of targeted early interventions for vulnerable children and a 20-year programme of universal childcare and paid parental leave would save at least £486bn over the same period.
This is even accounting for the costs of implementing the new system and raising the money. It proposed that the government borrow money from private investors through a series of annual bond issues with 10-year maturities, rather than raise taxes.
Some of the proposed services would be mandatory, such as early years education for children up to the age of four, while others, such as antenatal care and parenting lessons, would be offered within universal community-based settings, such as children’s centres, to make them accessible.
Funds would also go towards workforce development and improving the evidence base on local needs, through annual local assessments of child and family well-being.
Tackle ‘blame culture’
Maureen Nuttall, Action for Children’s strategy development manager and a former social worker, emphasised the importance of placing targeted provision for vulnerable children and families within universal services “to remove the blame culture, so parents feel more comfortable accepting help”.
The report drew on research gathered at the charity’s children’s centres, where it said improvements had been seen in the well-being of children, young people and their families.
“We have enough research to support long-term national investment. We hope to secure cross-party commitment so every government works towards the same aims,” Nuttall said.
Nicola Steuer, head of NEF’s centre for well-being, said: “We are proposing a more preventive long-term approach which would deliver excellent results for society and save money.”
Action for Children seeks evidence base for early intervention