• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Saturday 24th January, 2009

UK treasury sold prevention with a money-back guarantee

The ideas and achievements of James Heckman, David Olds and Steve Aos, the increasing relevance during hard times of cost benefit analysis, and the principles of much else from the arena of prevention science have all figured in an important debate in the UK House of Commons.They have a place in a campaign led by Labour parliamentarian Graham Allen and the former Leader of the Conservative party, Ian Duncan Smith, to convince the UK Treasury that investment in proven early intervention programs is not only sensible in social terms, but also economically prudent.Persuading politicians to endorse a strategy certain to reap only small rewards in the few years between UK general elections is generally an uphill struggle. Remarkably in this case, perhaps because the UK economy is in such straits and the population is resigned to there being no quick fix, arguments in favor of investing in one generation in order to benefit the next are making cross-party headway.If children grow up healthy and happy in households that offer them love, nurture, stimulus and empathy, their prospects improve dramatically for the rest of their lives, Graham Allen said. They are less likely to commit antisocial behavior and crime or to become dependent on alcohol or other drugs. They are more likely to achieve at school and less likely to stress their teachers and disrupt the education of others. They are more likely to secure well-paid employment and become taxpayers and less likely to be dependent on welfare.As well as referring to activity in Nottingham, where he has his constituency and where David Olds's Nurse-Family Partnership is being piloted, Allen highlighted a similar wayfinding initiative in Birmingham. There, he said, a ?41 million package was intended to save ?102 million. [The expertise and experience Steve Aos has been able to offer has been an important confidence-building factor in Birmingham. See: Washington state helps England's second city get real and Forward! Brighter Futures program gets green light.]"To use a fashionable Keynesian expression, early intervention is a massive multiplier," Allen argued. "That sort of commonsense economic and financial conclusion has now been underpinned by fantastic amounts of research. Five or 10 years ago, we might have been scratching around for an evidence base to prove it, but we now have a lot of solid evidence, not least because of the superb work done by Treasury officials in the lead up to the last comprehensive spending review."Today's borrowing must be tomorrow's springboard for success, not a ball and chain or something that gives no returns in the future. The investment must give those returns massively and in ever greater amounts, create growing dividends and savings for a generation and help to repay current borrowing."I do not want a check tied in a pink ribbon or a commitment that this or that financial instrument will be used in future," he said. "I do not want any favors. I do not want social or ethical money from somebody trying to help me out. I want money from the hardest-faced capitalist who can be found in the toughest financial market that can be found, who sees it purely as a great investment that will yield a return, because there is a tough case for it as a money-making scheme."Ian Duncan Smith suggested some ways to secure the necessary long-term investment. One might be a new national savings issue dedicated to early intervention. Its proceeds would be ring-fenced and re-lent to local government or other vehicles to finance approved programs. Government might also consider creating special purpose early intervention trusts, or socially responsible early intervention companies with powers to borrow money based on an arms length agreement. Or it could commit dedicated long-term grant aid to early intervention projects from current revenues. It was a less attractive suggestion because it was the most likely to make projects vulnerable to a change of Government.[For more about the Nottingham initiative Graham Allen has been steering and his partnership with Ian Duncan Smith, see Is early intervention printing the dream ticket? and Nottingham to become UK's first early intervention city .]

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