Comment: Why we need an early intervention society

Matthew Pike is chair of the Views social impact partnership
Matthew Pike is chair of the Views social impact partnership

There are many things we know we should do, but we often don't: eat more vegetables, floss regularly, or visit the doctor about those worrying early symptoms.

By Matthew Pike

The same goes for government. We know we should fund more on the basis of evidence rather than gut. We should spend more on prevention and less on expensive cure. We should pool our budgets when we want the same thing as others.

And then our good intentions evaporate as fast as a new year's resolution, in the face of turf wars, egos, the hyperactive political news cycle and the instinctive hiding behind rules and regulations.

How then can the Allen Review on Early Intervention launched today avoid becoming so much stale apple pie in months to come?

Graham Allen calls, with unquestionable common sense, for us to invest in the lives of children and break a generational cycle of abuse and neglect. This is an agenda that would save the state a fortune in better education, reduced benefits-take-up, lower crime levels. It is clear that it could transform hundreds of thousands of lives; but only if government can learn to break old habits.

What will make the difference? The first answer is obvious: crisis. When we have a heart attack, we change our lifestyle. Now that we face seismic reductions in funding, we have no choice but to change the game. Many old hands with a variety of scars on their backs would argue that this is what central government has needed for a good while: 150,000 volts on a targeted basis.

But crisis is a trigger, nothing more: we need to know how to channel fear into positive action. This is the major contribution of the Allen Review; to set out what works; to show which outcomes can be achieved through early intervention and to evidence what cashable savings can be gained and by whom. The new independent Early Intervention Foundation, backed by the prime minister along with other party leaders, will make this critical knowledge widely available.

Beyond this, the key is action. As the old adage has it, it is much easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting. Action on ambitious scale is what is required and this is what the Allen Review proposes, across 27 trail-blazing local authorities in the first instance. The closest parallel to this vision of an early intervention society is found in the Victorian era when local authorities invested on a massive scale in public health: clean air, clean water, proper sewage treatment. Through these investments, people's life expectations were changed, permanently.

The raw fuel for this vision of an early intervention society is private capital. To act with the scale of ambition required, the independent Early Intervention Foundation will work with the city to issue bonds: £100 million in the first instance, with larger offers to institutional investors to follow. This borrowing will be off the government balance sheet. Risk will be transferred to the third and private sectors. But the costs will also be controlled, for example through the help of a new Big Society Bank. This is not a return to the private finance initiative of old but rather a new social finance initiative. Maybe it is time to change the habits of a lifetime.

Matthew Pike is chair of the Views social impact partnership and adviser to the new Early Intervention Foundation

The opinions in's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.


Load in comments
Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.