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Evidence for Early Action

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This page outlines current evidence for early action. This is evidence voluntary and community organisations can use to argue for early action funding and to adopt the early action principle within their own organisations.

This section is in development from November 2012 onwards as we pull together relevant writing and resources to support early action in the voluntary and community sector (VCS).

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Perspectives on early action

These are extracted from the Early Action Task Force report, The Deciding Time (November 2012).

The perspective from the Big Lottery Fund

Ambreen Shah is deputy director, Big Lottery Fund England

We have funded and been engaged in the work of the Early Action Task Force, and value the insights from The Triple Dividend report, as early action is an important area for the Big Lottery Fund. Our mission is to help people and communities most in need and as an intelligent funder, we’re committed to focusing our resources, people and connections towards stemming problems at source. Inspired by our ethos of People Powered Change, we want to identify long term local solutions and find people with the skills and talents to make a difference.

Statistics on child poverty, income and health in our society all point to the same stark truth – decades of well-meaning effort have not done enough to prevent the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage within families, nor to help unlock the potential trapped within some sections of our society. Remedial services are not only costly in terms of wasted human potential; they are huge cost drain on our public services.

Over the next few months, we’ll be announcing major new investments to ‘shift the dial’ and address some of the most entrenched social problems in England. Task Force members have been working with us to share knowledge and experience about effective approaches and helping to develop our thinking as we plan these initiatives. The idea of promoting readiness and the principles set out in The Triple Dividend have been influential in helping us to decide on the focus of our funding in these areas and what we’ll be seeking to achieve.

We believe that every community facing problems contains within it people and groups who step forward as the solution. Engaged public services, community groups and businesses working together can turn that around if they are given time, encouragement and belief. A shared commitment to early action must be one of the central pillars for partnerships to coalesce around if a real impact for people and communities most in need is to be made.

Together, investing earlier in evidenced approaches is not only the ‘right’ thing to do – it is the best thing to do. Our approach includes support to expand and replicate evidence-based approaches on a larger scale, alongside a willingness to test and learn new approaches to help build the evidence base for early action.

We recently commissioned research from New Philanthropy Capital, one of the Task Force’s members, to scope an overview of the policy landscape on early action in the UK, and help BIG identify opportunities where it could make a difference. One challenge of implementing early action approaches is the need for partners and agencies to work collaboratively. We are interested in working with local partners – strategically and at scale – where we share the same goals of long-term change. Over the summer, we supported conferences organised by New Economics Foundation on the case for ‘Moving Upstream’ across social, economic and environmental initiatives, and one by Wave Trust on sharing effective approaches to early action for young children in local areas.

A key aspect of BIG’s strategic funding until 2015 will be to focus on a smaller number of long-term investments to address entrenched, costly social issues. We will start to make some announcements shortly, and begin conversations in the coming months. We have an appetite for making deep, targeted and radical investments. We will do this at the same time as maintaining our popular open grants programmes, Reaching Communities and Awards for All.

We are already helping set the pace through our UK-wide Improving Futures programme. Seventeen ground-breaking projects, each built around a Local Authorities and voluntary sector partnership, are already testing early intervention for families on the ‘cusp’ of acute need. Our Improving Financial Confidence programme is helping social housing tenants to become more confident in and more aware of how to take control of their finances. This fits strongly with The Triple Dividend’s focus on promoting readiness, intervening early rather than waiting until people get into debt to provide support.

Big Lottery Fund in England will increasingly stand as a champion for early action approaches and as a catalyst for bringing national and local partnerships together. We will also be a significant funder of early action activity in the coming years. We are excited by the potential of working with members of the Task Force and in partnership with local leaders. This will ensure that we grasp the opportunities which this agenda offers to give people more choices, opportunities and confidence, so that they can live fulfilling lives, be part of successful communities, and live in enriching places.

The perspective from Wales

Peter Davies is sustainable futures commissioner and chair of the External Reference Group for the Sustainable Development Bill

The Welsh government has been working on the development of a sustainable development bill to tackle the issues identified in The Triple dividend and to embed sustainability as a ‘central organising principle’ for the planning of public spending and the delivery of public services. Peter Davies explains the plans and the progress so far.

As commissioner for Sustainable Futures in Wales, an independent role appointed by Welsh Government to provide a focus on the long term, I am conscious that talking about the future is only of any use if it brings action now. The concept of early action delivering long term, triple bottom line outcomes should be at the heart of sustainable development. The Triple Dividend report perfectly captured the essence of this approach and brought much needed focus on action that can take place now preventing long term consequences and setting a pathway for a more sustainable future.

A commitment to sustainable development has been a distinctive feature of the devolution process in Wales with the government of Wales act including a duty on Welsh government to promote sustainable development. This duty requires the Government to produce a strategy to demonstrate how its policies contribute to sustainable development and requires annual reports on progress which are debated within the Senedd. The current strategy ‘One Wales One Planet’ sets sustainable development as the central organising principle of government defining sustainable development as:

  • Enhancing the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of people and communities, achieving a better quality of life for our own and future generations in ways which:
    • promote social justice and equality of opportunity, and;
    • enhance the natural and cultural environment and respect its limits – using only our fair share of the earth’s resources and sustaining our cultural legacy.

This governance framework has provided an important context for the development of policy across departments. It has also generated much debate as to how we best achieve a sustainable, long-term development path for Wales as successive reviews of the effectiveness of the sustainable development duty have highlighted challenges of achieving integration across departmental policies.

We can find evidence of shifts in practice with focus on early years through the commitment to Flying Start, the establishment of local service boards to deliver an integrated approach. However, it may be that our planned Sustainable Development Bill provides the real opportunity to ‘service the bureaucratic plumbing’ of spending rules, organisational silos etc. and puts forward practical and structural improvements and a process of transition to early action.

The Welsh government announced its intention to bring forward a sustainable development bill in July 2011 as a means of further strengthening the commitment by legislating to embed sustainable development as the central organising principle and establishing a new independent sustainable development body in Wales. An initial discussion paper was launched in November 2011 with a further consultation on proposals in May 2012 prior to the planned introduction of a white paper in December 2012.

The proposals, which have been informed by the thinking set out in The Triple Dividend, focus on improving governance for the long term with a focus on public bodies to base policy decisions on:

  • How to make best use of resources to maximise people’s wellbeing over the long term
  • prioritising prevention rather than tackling symptoms – focusing on the early identification of the causes of problems and tackling these rather than tackling the symptoms at a later date
  • Long-term cost savings between and within organisations through focusing on critical early interventions
  • Tackling single issues ‘in the whole’ especially through integrating different issues between organisational and administrative silos at the same time
  • Ensuring that decisions do not impose unintended costs elsewhere through integrating required economic, social and environmental outcomes into all decisions
  • Thinking long term so that decisions today do not leave future generations picking up the cost.

There is no doubt that the transition to a culture where all decisions are made for the best long-term outcomes by organisations which set policy and delivery in a joined up way and which take account of the needs of future generations will need a significant shift in attitudes, behaviours and capabilities. The proposed legal duty will provide an important framework for this change, but will need to be underpinned by a culture change programme which builds on the 4E’s model of Enable, Encourage, Engage and Exemplify currently applied by the Welsh government.

The Welsh government was a great supporter of the role of the UK Sustainable Development Commission as an independent body appointed to provide advice, advocacy and review and was the only administration in the UK to make a commitment to continue the function following the decision to withdraw funding by the UK government.

The proposals for the sustainable development bill will establish this role in a new statutory Sustainable Development Body which will have a key role in accelerating the pace of change providing independent leadership, advocacy, advice challenge and review. It will need to work closely with the Wales audit office which would have responsibility for ensuring that public bodies comply with the duty set out in the bill.

The exact scope of the new body is yet to be defined, but there are strong arguments for it having a key function in improving governance for the long term, setting the long-term development goals and measures of progress, which would align to the post Rio+20 process of setting global sustainable development goals. Ideally, it will also become responsible for the Sustainable Development Charter which has been established by the Welsh government as a voluntary mechanism to capture organisational commitment and which will be applied to private and third sector organisations which do not come under the legal requirements of the new sustainable development bill.

The proposed new legislation is an important step in improving our governance for the long term and shifting focus onto early action and prevention. It is a real opportunity to ‘service the bureaucratic plumbing’ of spending rules, organisational silos etc. and put forward practical and structural improvements and a process of transition to early action.

This will not be either an immediate or easy change and the legislation can only provide a framework so it is critical that we work with partners such as the Early Action Task Force to develop the practical application of the principles and make our commitment to sustainable development a reality.

More information

Recommended reading

This is a selection from the bibliography of the report 'The Deciding Time' (2012, Community Links).

Allen, G. (2011a) Early Intervention: The Next Steps. An Independent Report to Her Majesty’s Government. (London: TSO for the Cabinet Office).

Allen, G. (2011b) Early Intervention: Smart Investment, Massive Savings. The Second Independent Report to Her Majesty’s Government. (London: TSO for the Cabinet Office).

Barclays Wealth & New Philanthropy Capital (2011) Early Interventions: an Economic Approach to Charitable Giving.

Bell, K and Smerdon, M (2010) Deep Value: A literature review of the role of effective
Relationships in public services

Centre for Social Justice (2012) Rules of Engagement: Changing the Heart of Youth Justice.

CIPFA & NSPCC (2011) Smart Cuts: Public Spending on Children’s Social Care,

Community Links (2011) The Triple Dividend: Thriving Lives, Costing Less, Contributing More.

Department for Work and Pensions (2012) Social Justice: transforming lives. London: HM Government.

Every Child a Chance Trust (2009) The Long Term Costs of Literacy Difficulties, 2nd edition.

Harker, R. (2012) Children in Care in England: Statistics. House of Commons Library.

Hex, N., Bartlett, C., Wright, D., Taylor, M. and Varley, D. (2012), Estimating the current and future costs of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in the UK, including direct health costs and indirect societal and productivity costs. Diabetic Medicine, 29: 855–862. doi: 10.1111/j.1464-5491.2012.03698.x.

Home Affairs Committee (2010) The Government’s Approach to Crime Prevention. Tenth Report of Session 2009-10. Volume 1. (London: TSO)

Independent Commission on Youth Crime and Antisocial Behaviour (2010) Time for a Fresh Start.

Jama, D. and Dugdale, G. (2012) Literacy: State of the Nation. A Picture of Literacy in the UK Today. National Literacy Trust.

Kitchen, S., Tanner, E., Brown, V., Payne, C., Crawford, C., Dearden, L., Greaves, E. and Purdon, S (2012) Evaluation of the Free School Meals Pilot. Impact Report. Department for Education.

Marsh, K., Bertranou, E. and Samanta, K. (2011) Cost-benefit analysis and social impact bond feasibility analysis for the Birmingham Be Active scheme.

National Audit Office (2010a) Tackling Inequalities in Life Expectancy in Areas with the Worst Health and Deprivation. (London: The Stationery Office).

National Audit Office (2010c) The Youth Justice System in England and Wales: Reducing Offending by Young People (London: The Stationery Office)

New Economics Foundation (2012) The Wisdom of Prevention: Long-term planning, upstream investment and early action to prevent harm.

Plimmer, D. and van Poortvliet, M. (2012) Prevention and Early Intervention: Scoping study for the Big Lottery Fund. New Philanthropy Capital.

Policy Exchange (2009) Every Child a Reader: An Example of How Top-Down Education Reforms Make Matters Worse.

Puttick, Ruth (2012) Innovations in Prevention. NESTA.

Social Justice Policy Group (2007) Breakthrough Britain: Ending the Costs of Social Breakdown. Overview. Policy Recommendations to the Conservative Party.

Thraves, L., Sillett, J., Carr-West, J. and Sawford, A. (2012) Care Now and for the Future: an Inquiry into Adult Social Care. All Party Parliamentary Local Government Group and the Local Government Information Unit.

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