Social problems affecting young people cost £17 billion
Dealing with acute social problems affecting children and young people in England and Wales costs £17bn a year of public money, according to an anlysis by the Early Intervention Foundation charity.
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.
Local authorities bear the largest share of these costs at £6.5bn while welfare spending is £3.7bn. The NHS, schools, police and the criminal justice system also share the bill.
Three fifths of the total is spent on child protection and safeguarding.
Perhaps most notable is the difference between the amount of money spent on late intervention as compared to early intervention: only £200 million is spent on crime prevention, whereas £1.4 billion is spent on already existing anti-social behaviour and youth offending.
The authors say: "What these figures represent is merely the immediate impact on the taxpayer of thousands of lives blighted by thwarted potential and missed opportunities.
"The focus should shift from picking up the pieces to giving everyone the best start in life. Many of these children and young people might have had a different journey if they or their family had received the right help at an earlier time."
The report challenges the next government to redirect resources into prevention, with late intervention spending reduced by 10% or £1.7bn.
It says agencies should must co-ordinate services better, to put those most in need at the centre, avoiding duplication and waste.
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