March 31, 2010 Leave a comment
The age of austerity is spoken of without a second thought now, but spending cutbacks are relative to a situation, and for the past 10 years of financial boom (that is before the crash) it might appear that throwing money at problems was the UK solution, particularly at a local level.
This resulted in many different agencies, not working joined-up, to try and solve problems and/or find solutions, while treading on the toes of other frontline workers in the process.
Take Sure Start for example, one of the very best initiatives to be attributed to the New Labour Party of its time in office. Sure Start once had a ‘Children’s Centre’ model, it has slowly over time developed into an ‘arm’ of the welfare state by emphasising “getting mothers into work” and spotlighting teenage years, rather than focusing on early years and early interventions.
A demos report on parenting entitled Building Character took note of Sure Start in the section on policy directions pointing out there is not only a strategic risk of losing focus, but also economic dangers in doing work in an area that is already the remit of another public service.
There are a great deal of initiatives set up to try and get Mothers back into work and many more still whose role it is to spotlight teenagers - perhaps predictably the age of prosperity was the age of money wasting. Along with the bursting of the housing bubble in America, the economy soon was to be damned, for which we will pay, in spite of bailouts.
What was necessary thereafter was to fix what we shall call the double-spending problem in public services.
The advent of internet shopping has bought about what is known as e-money (as you can guess, this is money that is redeemable online), and this money is easy to duplicate. So, the boffs started to work out ways to rectify what had started to be called the double-spending problem. Those boffs made tracks to solve this problem by making it so every time e-money was spent a computer bank is notified to take note of every sale (so as to curb duplication).
Public spending has is its very own double-spending problem, though fortunately government have their very own cohort of boffs and they have realised the Total Place initiative.
The initiative, currently in its pilot stage in several authorities including Birmingham, aims to join up different services in the public sector with the intention of re-emphasising roles and remits, removing communication barriers between services which ought to be more joined up (as any frontline worker will inform, communication features as a major problem between, say for example, those working within children’s services and those working in mental health services, who would both benefit a great deal if communication barriers were removed – which in many instances they are – on a wider, national scale) and eventually making it far easier to ascertain what, and what is not, value for money.
With children’s services – in 2008\9 costing £63.18bn of the £620.685bn of total spending (around 10%) – it is crucial at once to recognise that austerity should definitely not affect some areas, but a sensible strategy be employed to identify where spending should reallocated to.
The Action for Children/NEF document Backing the Future made the very important and plausible case that spending should remain in carefully targeted areas of early intervention, in spite of the looming time where many areas of the public sector will be fighting over money from a smaller pot. Their report claimed to prove that “a 10-year investment of £191 billion in targeted interventions, such as working with families to keep children out of the care system, or improving parenting skills, will deliver a net return of £269 billion” though assured us that if at first this looks like a tremendously huge sum of money, to compare it with “the £4 trillion cost over 20 years of continuing with the current paradigm under which we continue to pay the costs of what are preventable social problems.”
Furthermore, these sums are only the ones they would declare to the treasury; their estimates are “for every £1 invested annually, between £7.60 and £9.20 of social value is generated for individuals, families, communities and other local services.”
One measure I suggest we don’t cut is the Child Trust Fund (savings and investment account for children born on or after 1 September 2002 which the government adds a £250 voucher to, in order to start their account, which can be topped up by parents, family or friends to a maximum of £1,200 a year). At an event on the CTF held by the Fabian Society recently, Carey Oppenheim of the IPPR, to the question of whether the fund was a wasteful use of public spending, replied no, adding that it was a small price to pay for something that has so much potential in social value, noting that it was an easy target for cuts because there would be, strictly speaking, “no losers”.
David White of The Children’s Mutual also added that it would be invaluably beneficial for “youngsters to arrive at adulthood with … opportunity” such as is the potential of the fund.
Critics may see it as wasteful, but they forget the added social value of it, others may see it as demonstrating the government’s need to rely on assets in their welfare schemes, but they forget that the child trust find should not be seen as party political, but as an inexpensive gesture. Though further, as something that can actually go a long way for children when their transition into adulthood comes, much like is the case for early intervention initiatives also, which for the reasons I’ve explained, should be spared the axe.