It was an interesting move when the new coalition government asked labour MP Graham Allen to look into 'dysfunction and under-achievement' in some families and to come up with possible recommendations as to how the problem could be tackled. Of course it's been well known for some time that a relatively small number of such families are responsible for a hugely disproportionate cost to the state as problems arise over the passage of time.
In a recent separate report it was also confirmed that a childs life chances are pretty much determined before they ever set foot inside a school. So it wasn't hugely surprising that Allen concluded that early intervention from birth with children born to disadvantaged families could potentially reap significant savings to the taxpayer further down the line.
It would make a huge amount of sense if potentially serious problems in later life such as anti-social and criminal behaviour were prevented rather allowed to develop. We know only too well of our limited success and the expense of trying to deal with problems once manifested. But of course none of this is new because it was the basic idea behind New Labour's Sure Start initiative and if we go back even further, Intermediate Treatment. The problem is as Allen quite rightly identifies, there is absolutely no government money to pay for any new early years intervention programmes. In fact publication of his report coincides with cuts in funding to already existing projects aimed at helping families, such as Home-Start.
But Allen thinks he has the answer in getting investors to pay for any new scheme. Basically he intends to adapt a version of the Payment by Results idea that is being actively canvassed in relation to funding offender rehabilitation schemes. It looks as if he plans to work out how much it costs the state to provide services for a 'problem' child over their lifetime, as opposed to a figure for the rest of the cohort. The plan will be to reward providers and investors who work with the disadvantaged children with a proportion of the estimated savings. It sounds an extraordinary idea and we will have to await his second report due in the summer to find out exactly how it might work. But in the meantime, what happens to projects like Home-Start who it seems are having their funding cut now?