'Picking up the pieces' from social problems costs billions - charity

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Society is spending £17 billion a year "picking up the pieces" from social problems like domestic violence, abuse and neglect, unemployment and youth crime in England and Wales, according to a new report.

The figure equates to £287 for every person in England and Wales and includes a £6.4 billion burden on local councils, £3.7 billion on the NHS and £2.7 billion on the Department for Work and Pensions, said the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) charity.

The charity argues that much of this money could be saved by acting early to support children and families before problems become entrenched.

But the Local Government Association (LGA) warned that financial support for early intervention had been slashed by 56% in recent years, while councils are facing a "funding gap" of almost £2 billion in children's social care services by the end of the decade.

The EIF calculated that the cost of "late intervention" was highest in the North East, at £386 per head, followed by the North West (£316) and West Midlands (£307).

EIF chief executive Carey Oppenheim said: "The increase in recorded cases of domestic violence and abuse, and the costs associated with that, are especially worrying given everything we know about the impact of family violence and conflict upon children. We know effective early help has the potential to improve outcomes and reduce the need for late intervention.

"We hope this analysis will stimulate renewed discussions, locally and nationally, about how to better support vulnerable children and families.

"Our figures also show how the financial cost varies across issues, agencies and local areas; this should help ensure that the right partners are around the table and that their investment is targeted appropriately."

Richard Watts, the chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said: "Councils have long recognised the importance of investing in preventative services. Early intervention work with children and their families helps to limit the need for children to enter the care system, improves performance at school and helps avoid mental health issues in later life.

"However, the significant increase in demand for child protection services over recent years has placed a considerable strain on children's social care services, with a £1.9 billion funding gap by 2020 predicted in the LGA's Autumn Statement submission. Funding for early intervention has also fallen by 56% in the last five years.

"There needs to be an urgent reform of how funding is allocated across the range of early intervention services to encourage joint working, savings and avoid duplication. This will allow councils to further build support around the needs of families and shift the emphasis from crisis spending towards longer term prevention services."

The cost of late intervention was highest in Middlesbrough (£531 per head of population), Stockton-on-Tees (£462), Blackpool (£453), Knowsley (£439) and Hartlepool (£429), according to the EIF.

Lowest costs were in the Isles of Scilly (£164), Rutland (£169), Cheshire East (£190), Surrey (£192) and Cheshire West and Chester (£202).