Southwark Commission gives early action approaches a boost

A couple of months ago, Southwark launched its independent Early Action Commission. The benefits of “early action” – shorthand for the idea that helping people to manage health and wellbeing issues is better than managing a crisis later on – are widely accepted. Yet until now, translating this into concrete action has not been straightforward.

So why does early action matter so much? What’s happening in Southwark? And what does the future hold for early action approaches?

Preparing ourselves for the future

The arguments for early action are not new or surprising, especially for the many voluntary organisations that specialise in preventative services: we all know it’s better to stop a candle from falling over than to have to call the fire brigade.

Early action prioritises providing people with the support they need to tackle health and wellbeing issues before they become serious and complex.

It’s about tackling the root of the problem, so that people can live the lives they choose to and are not forced to rely on the state.

It’s also about saving money. The National Audit Office estimated that £170 million could be saved each year through earlier detection and better management of diabetes. When you consider all the other areas where early action could make a difference – obesity, social isolation, young people at risk of offending, to name just a few – the potential for savings is enormous.

Early action… In action

Southwark faces a number of significant challenges: it has the highest obesity rate for 10-11 year olds nationally and suffers from high levels of violent crime. Its citizens are also disproportionately likely to be long term recipients of Jobseekers’ Allowance or permanently admitted into a residential care or nursing homes.

Following a proposal made by Community Action Southwark (CAS), the local Health and Wellbeing Board decided to set up an independent commission to look at how early action could help local people. Chaired by the chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Margaret Hodge MP, it brings together experts from across the public and voluntary sectors.

This is great partnership working in practice - the Commission is well placed to look at early action approaches in the round because it is itself the product of the voluntary and public sectors working closely together.  

While the Commission’s exact remit will be decided in the initial stages of its work, early research points are focused on three areas: education and employment; wellbeing, isolation and socialisation; and housing, social spaces and networks. The final report is due in March 2015 and will look at how local spending and commissioning can promote early action, and what projects can be generated to showcase the benefits.

Looking forward

For years, early action has proved to be a tough nut to crack. But there are good reasons to believe that the Southwark Commission might be the beginning of a bigger and more systematic change. The advocates for early action have never been louder - from the Early Action Taskforce and the Early Intervention Foundation to the emphasis on preventative services in the NCVO Manifesto 2015. Health and Wellbeing Boards provide a new forum in which the wider determinants impacting health and wellbeing can be tackled.

Perhaps most fundamentally, health and social care is coming under unprecedented pressure –resources are becoming more limited at the same time as demand is increasing. We all need to think creatively about how we can give people the support they need to avoid dependency on the system for the simple reason that the current approach is not sustainable.

A number of great early action programmes are already up and running. Redbridge’s First Response System, which won the Innovation Award at this year’s Compact Awards, brings together 45 government and voluntary organisations to provide low level prevention and community interventions such as support for carers and falls intervention.

Of course, nobody underestimates the scale of the challenge. But one of the greatest strengths of the voluntary sector is its long history of providing early action interventions. If, like Southwark, we can form strong partnerships with the public sector to come up with new solutions, we will relieve the pressure on the public purse – and improve the lives of our beneficiaries.

What’s happening on the ground?

You can find other articles from CAS on the Early Action Commission on the CAS website here and here. We’d also love to hear about any local examples of early action and your thoughts on how the approach is working in practice – feel free to drop me (Compact Voice policy officer Nehal Depani) a line.


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