£17 billion annual cost of damaging social problems affecting young people

12 February 2015

EMBARGO: 00.01 Thursday 12 February 2015.

CONTACT: Greg Burns, Early Intervention Foundation, 020 7664 3184.


Picking up the pieces from damaging social problems affecting children and young people such as mental health problems, going into care, unemployment and youth crime costs the Government almost £17 billion a year, new research shows.

Analysis by the Early Intervention Foundation charity found almost a third of this bill came from the annual £5 billion cost of looking after children in care.

An estimated further £4 billion a year is spent on benefits for 18-24-year-olds not in education, employment or training (NEET) with another £900 million spent helping young people suffering from mental health issues or battling drug and alcohol problems.

These figures only represent the immediate cost in a single year, and do not capture the longer-term impact – which can last into adult life and sometimes into the next generation.

The EIF said they demonstrate that public services need to urgently shift towards addressing the root causes of problems rather than individuals and society being left to bear the excessive cost of failure later down the line.

A move from late to early spending will not only make a serious contribution to balancing the nation’s books in the long-term, by reducing pressures on health services and the welfare system, but will also transform children’s lives and help break inter-generational cycles of disadvantage.

This will only be achieved using the best evidence of what works to support children, young people and their families. Effective and timely Early Intervention has been shown to work to stop problems worsening and having damaging effects.

There is also a need to break down silo-working and short-term thinking within Whitehall and local councils, schools and health providers which means scarce resources are wasted.

Better co-ordination across Whitehall, local agencies and local communities is needed to ensure existing Early Intervention funding is spent better through pooled budgets and more joined-up commissioning which focuses on children’s outcomes.

Effective Early Intervention spending also needs to be prioritised and increased over time as the costs of failure are reduced.

The new EIF analysis shows council services (£6.5 billion) are having to pick up the largest share of the national late intervention spend – followed by welfare costs of £3.7 billion and the NHS at £3 billion.

However, demand for social care and other council statutory services, combined with reduced funding from central government, means that local Early Intervention services are under pressure.

As it prepares to host its first-ever National Conference, the EIF is therefore calling on whoever forms the next government to:

  • Use more effective Early Intervention to target reducing the cost of late intervention on public services by 10 per cent – £1.7 billion – by 2020;
  • Redirect funding and inefficient spending into a dedicated and ring-fenced Early Intervention Investment Fund tied to the life of the next Parliament. Supplemented by private sector capital such as social investment, the money would be awarded to councils, healthcare providers, schools, voluntary groups and other organisations with ambitious plans to redesign local services around effective Early Intervention;
  • Make prevention and Early Intervention a key theme of its spending plans by finding out what is being spent on Early Intervention, how it is being used, and how it helps children and families. Only then can we start to shift resources into earlier and more effective support.

Carey Oppenheim, EIF Chief Executive, said:

“Early Intervention is about helping a child before they go into care, commit a crime or are excluded from school. It is also about developing children’s social and emotional skills and resilience to enable them to navigate life’s difficulties.
“Reaching children and families earlier is not only right for children and young people, it is right for the economy too.

“Our research lays bare how much the Government spends each year tackling the social problems that Early Intervention is designed to prevent. Yet our public services remain increasingly geared towards picking up the pieces from the harmful and costly consequences of failure.

“As a nation, this is something we can no longer afford to ignore.

“Whoever forms the next government must place the next generation of children, young people and their families at the heart of its policies. A long-term national and local commitment to prioritising and investing in Early Intervention will not only save money but will give children the best chance of thriving.

“We will be sending this analysis to the 20 pioneering places we are supporting. We hope they, and those thinking about Early Intervention in other areas, will use the data to make the case to their Health and Wellbeing Boards, Community Safety partnerships and others for a united focus on effective Early Intervention.”


  1. The Early Intervention Foundation’s new report ‘Spending on Late Intervention: How we can do better for less’ reveals the immediate annual fiscal cost of late intervention for children and young people in England and Wales is £16.6 billion. Full report attached.
  1. The Early Intervention Foundation is a charity and one of the Governments ‘What Works Centres’. Founded in July 2013 by Graham Allen MP, it promotes greater use of evidence-based Early Intervention that improves the lives of children, prevents future social problems and reduces the costs of failure. Visitwww.eif.org.uk.
  2. Early Intervention tackles social problems that risk long-term harm for children, their families and society. Although the approach can be used at any time of life, Early Intervention services – such as parenting support, youth offending prevention programmes and children and young people’s mental health services – are aimed at 0 to 19-year-olds.
  3. The Early Intervention Foundation first-ever National Conference takes place in London today. Confirmed speakers include Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt. For details visit http://www.eif.org.uk/events/national-conference/