• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Monday 21st September, 2009

Can eleventh hour prevention stitch be in time?

The UK could save upwards of $750 billion over 20 years and make huge improvements in social well-being by shifting investment in children and young people to a more preventative model, says a new report. Backing the Future authored by think tank the New Economics Foundation (NEF) for children’s charity Action for Children claims to have carried out the first full economic and social analysis of the true cost of the UK’s failure to invest sufficiently in prevention efforts. Looking at a range of social problems including obesity, crime, teenage births, mental health and family breakdown across 16 comparable European countries, the NEF researchers found that Britain paid the highest price. The Nordic countries - who invest proportionally more in prevention and early intervention - bore the lowest long-term financial burden. Drawing on cost benefit analyses of proven programs carried out by economist Steve Aos from the Washington State Institute for Public Policy and other sources, the team calculated how much could be saved. Their projections included the potential impact of evidence-based initiatives such as Multisystemic Therapy, Life Skills Training, Triple P and Nurse Family Partnership. If nothing is done to address the root causes, NEF warn, the cost of tackling social problems over the next 20 years could exceed $6.5 trillion. “In the current economic climate, a sharp squeeze on public services is expected whoever is in power. The reality is the government can’t afford not to invest,” said Jody Aked, the report’s lead author, As well as outlining the daunting costs of not investing in prevention, Backing the Future maps out a way forward. The package combines additional investment over ten years in targeted services for vulnerable children, alongside services for all children that would lay the foundation for a long-term shift to preventative measures. Targeted interventions will initially be necessary to break down the intergenerational transfer of disadvantage and negative outcomes, the authors explain. However, to consolidate the transformation, deeper structural change is necessary. A more holistic approach to children’s services is required, with access to high quality universal childcare and properly funded parental leave, coupled with support services and delivery models that have been shown to work. Explaining the impetus behind the report, fellow lobbyist said Clare Tickell, Chief Executive of Action for Children, said: “There has been a long-term understanding and belief in the benefits of early intervention and prevention - but with too little action to back it up,” See: Aked J, Steuer N, Lawlor E and Spratt S (2009), Backing the Future: why investing in children is good for us all, New Economics Foundation, London.[For more about the development of the cost benefit argument in UK politics, see Walking the line between intervention and intrusion and Washington State helps England’s second city get real.]• first published on September 21st 2009

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