This blog is written by Caroline Slocock, Director of Civil Exchange and a member of the Early Action Task Force.
I hope the Chancellor will announce new investment in people, not just in capital infrastructure, tomorrow. We’ve already heard that the Government is willing to spend £1.3 billion on reducing congestion on roads, £2 billion a year on research and development for industry and £400 million for new Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund. The Autumn Statement is likely to include investment in other forms of capital investment too. But the case for investing in the next generation is equally strong and just as important for making Britain “match fit” for Brexit.
The key is to believe in the talents of all of our young people and communities – particularly those at most risk of being left behind – to aim high and invest long term. A good model was the bold decision by successive governments to invest in the potential future Olympic champions of the future, which bore fruit not just at the London Olympics but in Rio too. A similar act of faith in children and young people otherwise at risk of underperforming could by hugely more significant to Britain’s future prospects.
This is a productivity, as well as an equality, issue, and an even more pressing one in the light of Brexit. Theresa May has already pledged to tackle Britain’s longstanding educational inequalities, and rightly so. Britain has a long tail of educational underperformance, which primarily affects children from the poorest backgrounds, white working class children of both sexes, as well as Pakistani and Bangladeshi, Caribbean and Gypsy and Traveller groups. Indeed, the UK is the worst performing of OECD countries in this respect and, as an OECD report has modelled, the value of bringing all students to a minimum level of attainment in the UK for GDP could be very substantial over time.
New investment would be a cost now but would help Britain achieve a surplus longer term. Get it right, and everyone in this generation will contribute to the success of the country, financially and socially, paying more taxes, raising productivity, creating healthy, happy and strong communities that lay the foundations for Britain’s social and economic success. Get it wrong and the chances are many will end up relying on welfare payments unnecessarily and face avoidable health and social problems that will contribute to the debt burden for which future generations have to pay.
The Government’s current strategy is to raise standards in schools and put in extra money for children with Free School Meals (FSM) through the pupil premium but this is not enough. Professor Steve Strand from Oxford University found the largest gap in attainment between FSM children and others in outstanding and good secondary schools and concluded that `
What is needed is a more sustained and holistic approach for at risk children and young people that provides support from “cradle to career” and is sustained across institutions, bringing in not just schools but other public and voluntary sector services in a co-ordinated and targeted way. This approach has been shown to work. In the USA, for example, the Federal Government has invested in Promise Neighbourhoods that do just this. A similar approach is now being pursued in the UK by Save the Children, with support from a number of charitable foundations, in Wallsend in North Tyneside, Collyhurst in Manchester and Pembury in Hackney, London. The West London Zone is another example. These experiments are based on a considerable body of evidence and are themselves beginning to provide evidence that the approach bears fruit.
That’s why the Early Action Task Force is calling for the Government to establish a Next Generation Investment Fund that would be available for different communities to access, putting forward ideas that meet the diverse needs of different communities, but which are united in an optimistic view of their children’s potential.
How big should this Fund be? The Early Intervention Foundation has estimated the costs to the Exchequer of late intervention to correct problems for children and young people is nearly £17 billion a year in England and Wales. If just 1 per cent of that were earmarked now for the Fund, that would be a good start.
Now is the time to invest ambitiously in making the most of all talents in Britain.