• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Friday 05th August, 2011

"Never mind the bollocks"

On the 4th of August, Prevention Action reported on a blog posted in the London Review of Books by contributor Laura Jones' that examined the messages put forward by the Allen review to introduce early intervention approaches in the UK. Today, Michael Little from the Social Research Unit at Dartington, and chief editor of Prevention Action responds to the blog:"Laura Jones is right to ask questions about private investment in public services as advocated by Graham Allen MP. What can these consistently irresponsible, untrustworthy business people who have neglected social responsibility do to improve the lot of impoverished children?When I was helping Graham Allen with his first report, I overheard one minister describe one of the proposed financial instruments as ‘a social investment bond without the bollocks.’We shouldn’t get too excited. Nobody, in the near future at least, is going to make money out of children’s services. Allen’s two reports will result in the initiation of several experiments.What Allen and advocates of social finance like Sir Ronald Cohen are presaging is an increase in philanthropy — charitable trusts and socially-minded individuals have been the main market for social impact bonds so far, though of course that could change.The catalysts for change are metrics that package risks faced by impoverished children in forms that the business community can understand, by attaching a cost to them. But more importantly, these methods parcel risks and outcomes in a way that all investors in children’s services — taxpayers, parliament, local authorities, central government, the NHS — can understand and use to make better decisions.Some private investors are excited by this potential. But I would be surprised if as much as £500 million is realised annually. £200 million is a more realistic estimate. This is less than half of one per cent of the £55 billion that the public sector currently spends on children each year.The primary backers of children’s services work in the public sector, in local authorities, GP surgeries and schools. They are — and have been — as easily maligned as the business community. Some will welcome extra support from philanthropic or private investment. And some are going to implement Allen not only without the bollocks of social finance instruments but without the private sector altogether.In practice it is not the politics of making money out of poor kids that stands in the way of the reforms Allen advocates. The big obstacle is complexity. Predicting the economic benefits from any investment, public or private, has become relatively straightforward. Realising those benefits is really tricky.What drives Allen is helping children in his constituency and elsewhere in the UK to break out of a cycle of disadvantage that traps them into a life of poverty. More time spent stopping problems before they happen will help achieve that goal. Just one per cent of the £55 billion public purse allocated to policies and programmes that are proven to alleviate childhood disadvantage will go a long way to getting the job done.Closing the gap between rich and poor kids is the goal. Greater philanthropic investment is just one small way of achieving it."To read the blog on the London Review of Books please visit this link:"Good for the Poor, Good for Goldman Sachs"

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