Lack of early years support costs England over £16 billion a year

It cannot be overstated how important early childhood is for our health, happiness and for the economy
- Minouche Shafik, LSE Director
DoC discussion at LSE June 2021
HRH The Duchess of Cambridge in discussion at LSE The Royal Foundation

Inadequate support for early years care and education costs England more than £16 billion every year, researchers from LSE's Care and Policy Evaluation Centre (CPEC) have calculated. 

This startling finding was highlighted in a new report, Big Change Starts Small, marking the launch of The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood, which was considered at a roundtable discussion at LSE today (Friday 18 June). The roundtable was attended by HRH the Duchess of Cambridge alongside leading academics and practitioners from the UK and beyond, including LSE’s Professor Martin Knapp.

The report, a collaboration between The Royal Foundation, CPEC at LSE and The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, underlines the critical lifelong impact of the early years on individuals, our economy and society at large.

Cost to society

The enormous financial figure identified by the CPEC team, led by Dr Eva-Maria Bonin, represents the cost to society of remedial steps taken to address a range of issues. From children spending time in care to short- and long-term mental and physical health problems, there are numerous difficulties which might have been avoided through better interventions in early childhood. The cost is equivalent to nearly five times the total annual spend in England on early education and childcare entitlements, and around 44 times the annual expenditure on specialist perinatal mental health support.

LSE researchers note that the £16.13 billion figure identified is probably an underestimate. It does not include, for example, later costs of unmet need, such as shortfalls in mental health provision, or the impacts on the attachment relationship between parents and children which may be harmed because of failures to provide early years support. Also, it does not take into account productivity and earnings losses of individuals over their lifetime.

Better outcomes

Lead researcher Dr Bonin reflected, “We spend a lot of money trying to, and often failing to, fix problems that we know are at least in part preventable. There is a big opportunity to spend these resources in a way that leads to better outcomes for children, families and society."

As part of today’s discussion, Professor Knapp focused on the need for better data and research around the impact of investment in early years support and interventions. He commented,  “Our collective failure to provide the right early years support has enormous negative impacts across many areas of life and often for the whole life-course. We need collective commitment to act early, building on research on what works for young children and families. I welcome the ambitions of the new Royal Foundation Centre to support this through initiatives driven by data.”  

LSE Director Minouche Shafik, added, We were delighted to be able to host this discussion with the Duchess of Cambridge and so many eminent experts on this crucial topic.

“It cannot be overstated how important early childhood is for our health, happiness and for the economy. Our research has demonstrated that investing more in early years support and education is one of the highest return investments a society can make in its own future.”

The report and roundtable discussion at LSE will be used to help guide and support The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood in its future activities around early years.

Behind the article

The full report is available at The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood Report: Big Change Starts Small, June 2021

The Care Policy and Evaluation Centre at LSE is a leading international research centre carrying out world-class research in the areas of long-term care (social care), mental health, developmental disabilities, and other health issues - across the life course - to inform and influence policy, practice, and theory globally.