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Baroness King of Bow: My Lords, in the short time available, I shall concentrate on two areas: the link between positive child development and early intervention strategies, and the link between early intervention strategies and reducing the economic deficit. I also wanted to discuss the link between poor housing and stunted child development, but time limits mean that will have to wait until another day.

I start with the most fundamental issue of all: early intervention. I have mentioned this issue in virtually every speech that I have given in this place because in my view the future of our children and of our country depends on it. One organisation that has always instinctively understood this is Community Links in east London. Last year it launched the Early Action Task Force, which publishes its keenly awaited report on 28 November. When the task force was launched in January 2011, its chair, David Robinson, described its mission as building, "a society that no longer needs the resources to respond because it has developed the strengths to prevent and has built, fences at the top of the cliff rather than running ambulances at the bottom".

Despite lip service, the way we run country and the way we invest in our children just does not add up. We invest in their failure, and in the failure of their families, rather than investing in their success and keeping families together. As the task force points out, early intervention may be common sense but it is not yet common practice. Children and families are the cornerstone of this country's well-being and, as Graham Allen highlights in his often-quoted report, Early Intervention: The Next Steps, the consequences of ineffective support for families and children and poor parenting, as we heard earlier, have an impact way beyond the individual and family concerned. Every taxpayer in Britain pays the cost of low educational achievement, poor work aspirations, drink and drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and criminality, which lead to social disruption, fractured lives, broken families and sheer human wastage.

Another organisation that works hard to reverse this downward spiral of family breakdown is 4Children. Its research findings show that what happens in pregnancy and the early years of a child's life has a profound impact on the rest of his or her life as they grow through primary school and secondary school and into adulthood. 4Children undertook two years of research that highlighted three issues that must be tackled urgently as a nation if we are to reduce family crisis and improve well-being: maternal depression, as we heard earlier; family violence; and parental alcohol abuse and, I would add, other drug abuse. These issues often have an impact way beyond the individuals concerned.

For families experiencing five disadvantages-depression, alcohol misuse, domestic violence, periods of homelessness and involvement in criminality-the cost to the state is between £55,000 and £115,000 per year. The cost of post-natal depression is around £45 million for England and Wales, and treating physical injuries and mental health problems as a result of domestic abuse costs the NHS almost £1.4 billion a year. For looked-after children the costs are much larger indeed; indeed, they are eye-watering. For foster care, the cost per child is £25,000 per year, while for children in children's homes it is £125,000 a year and children in secure accommodation cost £134,000 per year. We spend that money on vulnerable children when they have already gone completely off the rails. If only we could invest a fraction of that on preventing children and their families from falling apart, we would reduce the economic deficit rather than increase it.

I was delighted to hear the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, say that nothing matters more than children. I could not agree more. Could he and others who form part of the coalition Government, particularly the Minister, explain why the Government have announced that they are scrapping the early intervention grant from next April? This truly beggars belief. Councils have warned that the move will lead to cuts of up to 20% in their early-years and family intervention programmes, and could put Sure Start networks and other innovative projects at risk. I am sure that the Minister will reply that much of that money is going to pay for the ministerial commitment to provide free nursery care for two year-olds-so basically we are robbing one year-olds to pay for two year-olds. This seems to be the definition of a short-term approach, and I implore the Government and those who can most effectively influence them to think again on that issue.

We know that addressing these issues with a proactive, early intervention and family-focused approach has the potential to ensure proper child development in order to pay huge dividends to families and the national well-being as a whole. Only if we make these changes can we move government resources from the ambulances ranged at the bottom of the cliff to more strategic thinking at the top of the cliff so we stop throwing families and children off that cliff-face.

Hansard Link : Child Development