These costs are a direct result of additional use of government services by young people and families who did not access adequate support or early help when they needed it.
The report, Wall to Wall Support, has found that too often the people who most need support in areas such as housing, health and employment are let down due to the siloed nature of public service delivery. In this model, problems are not dealt with early enough and end up reaching a crisis point that is much more costly to resolve. This type of firefighting approach is an expensive and inefficient way to run public services.
The research included in-depth interviews with 20 participants with direct lived experience over a four week period to gain a deeper understanding of people’s support needs, use of support services, and housing situations. These conversations revealed that rising demand for public services is often linked to poor housing which is contributing to the challenges vulnerable children, young people and families are experiencing.
The report also includes economic analysis from WPI Economics which identified the knock-on effects of the lack of joined-up support. The analysis estimates the annual direct costs to the Exchequer from issues arising as a result of siloed support services: these include up to £1.8bn additional costs due to crime and anti-social behaviour, up to £820mn due to children missing days at school and up to £580mn additional costs to the NHS.
A place to call home
One of the roots of these challenges is the negative impact insecure housing can have on the most vulnerable in society.
Throughout the research underpinning this report, people with lived experience spoke about the negative impact that living in temporary accommodation can have on their mental health, but also the physical health of children. Research participants also gave examples of poor-quality housing, such as broken heating or mould, having a negative impact on their children’s health. This in turn contributes to lost hours at school and increased need for NHS care.
At the heart of this challenge is the UK’s housing crisis. In England, there are currently over 130,000 children living in temporary accommodation, an 89% increase since 2011. There are over one million households currently on waiting lists for social housing, yet only 37,000 homes for affordable rent or social rent were built last year in England.
A new approach
Most importantly, the report makes a series of recommendations for how to drag back public spending from being trapped at the crisis end of the system and help ensure this investment makes a lasting difference. Taken together, the recommendations would create a new citizen-centred system which is responsive to individual needs and circumstances.
To move towards this new system, the report advocates for local authorities to join up support services through dedicated key workers so that the needs of vulnerable children, young people and families –whether about housing, employment, education, health or social care – can be comprehensively considered and addressed. Joined-up data, outcomes-based commissioning, and simpler things like increasing awareness of services and making them more accessible are also key.
The report argues that funding for these recommendations could come from a new Treasury spending category which Demos has previously proposed, Preventative Departmental Expenditure Limits (PDEL). The report’s analysis shows that by investing in reform the government can prevent problems arising and make fiscal savings of up to £4.3 billion every year.
Alongside these reforms to public services, the report also recommends improving the affordability, supply, and quality of housing available to low-income families in order to increase stability in people’s lives and help reduce demand for public services.
Andrew Phillips, Senior Researcher at Demos and co-author of Wall to Wall Support: Joining up public services and housing for vulnerable children, young people and families, said: “For vulnerable children, young people and families, a lack of joined-up services has profoundly damaging consequences. Not only does it harm children’s attainment at school, but it also results in worse physical and mental health and a higher chance of children being taken into care, to say nothing of the myriad longer-term costs pertaining to negative consequences such as unemployment and homelessness.
“The problems that people face are simply too broad and complex to be tackled in silos, yet that is how both central government and local authorities often function. It’s also too difficult for people to access support when they need it, because resources are being used up at the ‘crisis end’ of services. We need a radical new approach, centred around prevention, which provides holistic and joined-up support to address the complexities and nuances of people’s lives.”
Helen Keenan, Chief Executive of Grosvenor Hart Homes, said: “The lack of affordable housing, coupled with a maze of dwindling and poorly co-ordinated support services that are hard to identify and access, is failing vulnerable children and young people, creating lost generations and saddling society with untenable long-term costs.
“By supporting this report, our ambition is to bring lawmakers’ attention to the issue and to stimulate policy innovation that can shift the focus from firefighting to prevention. Through our own activities which, in partnership with local authorities, provide high-quality affordable homes paired with tailored support services centred around mental health and wellbeing and routes into employment, we also hope to demonstrate the merits of an outcome-focused, replicable approach.”