Social consequence of poor infant attachment...two is too late

A speech by the Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP


I’d like to offer my thanks to Andrea Leadsom for her introduction.

It is a pleasure to be here today.

When Andrea asked me to become a founding patron of NORPIP, I had no hesitation in accepting.

Tackling family and social breakdown is an issue that has been close to my heart for many years now.

It was back in 2004 that I set up the Centre for Social Justice. Spending time in disadvantaged communities up and down the country, what I found was a section of British society that had been completely left behind.

In many cases, I saw children following the same dysfunctional path as their parents, confined to the margins of society because of where they had started out in life.

By the time they reached school, many of these children had already been the victims of violence, had witnessed parents on drugs or suffering depression.

And from the back of the classroom it was a slippery slope to truancy, to school exclusion, and from there to addiction, debt and crime.

At the Centre for Social Justice, we recognised that making a real difference  to these families’ lives meant targeting the pathways to poverty that led had them there.

Treating symptoms

All too often, however, Government social policy was conditioned to focus on managing problems - on containing them - rather than investing in changing them.

The failures of this approach were clear to see. 

Huge numbers of people maintained on out of work benefits - one million for a decade or more.

Young people forced to accept that their level of attainment depended on their background rather than their ability.

High and rising levels of family breakdown - with money spent on picking up the pieces of breakup rather than in preventing it.

Addicts moved onto less harmful drugs but not offered sustainable help to get clean.

And offenders locked up and swept under the carpet rather than being worked with and rehabilitated.

All this, a legacy of treating symptoms rather than tackling root causes.

Dysfunctional government

Part of the problem was that Government tended to work in silos - each department focused on their own narrow brief, but no one was looking at the individual or family as a whole.

This is the point the Prime Minister made when he launched the Government’s Troubled Families Programme. 

He told a story of a family in the North-West who in a single year were the subject of a huge amount of disconnected state activity.

The police, the ambulance service, A&E, the council, youth offending teams, and more.

Each tried to deal with the problems in their own particular area. 

But no one saw the family as a whole - there was management and maintenance of their problems, but no vision for helping them change their lives. 

Social Justice Cabinet Committee

On coming into office, the challenge was how to change all this.

When the Prime Minister invited me to lead the Social Justice Cabinet Committee, it was a real opportunity.

First, to end the culture of siloed government.

But more than that, with departments taking a holistic approach to tackling social disadvantage, we could go back to an even earlier stage in children’s development - intervening early, and helping parents in order to give their children a better start in life.

It is as the Chair of this Committee - and as a representative of the different departments involved - that I speak to you today.

Early intervention

One of the first steps we took after forming the Committee was to commission a series of reports on children’s early years, including Frank Field’s report on poverty and life chances, and two reports from Graham Allen that focused on early intervention.

This was about developing a cross-party consensus on what needed to be done in this space. And then building the principles of this into policy, processes, and institutions across Government.

I wanted early intervention to be a golden thread weaving through everything the Government was doing to tackle social problems.

And both on paper and in practice, we have made real progress.

Early intervention runs through both the child poverty and social mobility strategies. And it’s a defining principle on page 1 of our Social Justice strategy - central to transforming the lives of our most disadvantaged families.

What we are doing

Let me explain what this means in action.

It means that instead of leaving a single teenage mother struggling to cope, feeling detached from her newborn baby, and waiting for problems to stack up down the line, we are seeking to ensure that parents receive expert support and advice from pregnancy and into their child’s early years.

Retaining a strong network of children’s centres is crucial, so that all families can access a core set of vital services.

But we also need clear examples of best practice in the field - and I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the importance of the work being done by OXPIP and NORPIP.

Offering therapeutic support for mothers and babies, helping them to develop a strong and loving attachment - this work is leading the way.

Following the example set by innovative local projects such as this, Government is making the foundation years a priority.

Whether it be in terms of health, where we have committed to doubling both the number of Family Nurse places and the number of health visitors by 2015…

… or education, where we are extending free early education to the most disadvantaged two-year-olds…

… or families, where we are trialling universal parenting support for mothers and fathers with a child under five.

You may have woken up to the Prime Minister talking about this this morning.

What we are trying to do is take the stigma out of the idea that needing help means you have somehow failed as a parent.

In fact, statistics show that two in five of all new mums are struggling to cope with the demands of their newborn.

And almost three quarters said they would have liked more professional help before the baby was born.

For parents with a child under 3, the figure is even higher - with 85 percent saying they had sought help in the last year.

So this is not a case of the nanny state intervening, but government responding to a need that is present across the social spectrum.

Through all this,we are steering the focus and the spending towards areas which we know can make a real difference to improving children’s life chances.

The future

Yet there is one final piece to the puzzle.

Together with achieving a cultural shift towards early intervention and tackling root causes, we must also change the culture of government spending, opening up a whole new dimension - one focussed solely on the impact that money has on transforming people’s lives.

It is here that I think we have a really exciting opportunity still to exploit - with the social investment market offering a real chance to get more private money working in pursuit of the public good.

Social investment

Historically it has been assumed that people could either be “good citizens” and put their money into charitable works, but without expecting anything in return.

Or they could be “profit maximisers”, who invest their money in commercial ventures and have to forget about the social consequences.

Social investment is a way of uniting the two - it is about saying to investors:

“You can use your money to have a positive impact on society, and you can make a return.”

In some cases this financial return will come from supporting a social enterprise which has profitable revenue streams.

However some of the most interesting recent projects have involved Government money as well, with investors paying up front to fund the delivery of social programmes, and then Government paying for the returns, funded by the reduced costs of social breakdown.

This is the model being used in the Social Impact Bond project in Peterborough, where investors are paying charities to run rehabilitation programmes with prisoners.

If reoffending falls by 7.5% or more, then the investors will receive a return - paid for by Government out of the reduced costs.

Growing the market

But in order to grow the market, you need to have programmes that are proven to be effective, that are tested and accredited so that investors have a clear understanding of what the returns might be and how certain they are to accrue.

Government’s job here is to sow the seeds, and to get the financial and regulatory conditions right so that the market can flourish.

That’s why we have launched Big Society Capital, capitalised with £600 million, and tasked it with the mission of growing the social investment market.

It’s why we’re testing a variety of cutting edge programmes through our Innovation Fund, which will help build the evidence base around social investment models.

And it’s why we have we have agreed to establish the Early Intervention Foundation, which will accredit programmes of work and provide a rigorous assessment of their likely social returns.

The potential

If we get this right, the potential prize could be enormous.

First, there is the potential to greatly increase the amount of funding available for social programmes, by bringing in private investment money on top of that provided by Government or pure philanthropy alone.

Second, social investment brings a whole new level of discipline and rigour to this funding because people are investing their own money in expectation of a return - money that could otherwise be reaping a profit elsewhere.

But third - and perhaps most importantly - it could be a powerful tool for building a more cohesive society.

The gap between the top and bottom of society is in many cases larger than it has ever been.

We have a group of skilled professionals and wealth creators at the top of society who have little or no connection to those at the bottom.

Yet in so many cases what divides the two is nothing more than a different upbringing, or a different start in life. 

I believe social investment is our best hope for tying not just the wealth but also the skills of those at the top of society back into our most disadvantaged communities. 

The social investment market is in its infancy, but it is my personal belief that if we can truly develop this market, it will mark the single biggest change to how social interventions are funded in future - having a powerful effect on the way innovative early intervention programmes such as NORPIP are delivered.


With PIPUK on the horizon, I believe this change is coming at just the right time.

I know Andrea will elaborate on this later, but I would like to congratulate her now - together with everyone involved in OXPIP and NORPIP - on how far you have come.

Having already helped hundreds of mothers and babies, the work you are doing is invaluable and I would like to offer my full support for developing a national network of PIPs in future.


So let me finish by returning to my message from the beginning.

Giving children the right start in life is critical.

Every aspect of human development - physical, intellectual, and emotional - is established in early childhood.

Equally, many of the social problems we face are a product of children’s earliest experiences in life.

If we can invest in the early years - effectively and efficiently, and through the tool of social investment - the rewards may be great.

Not only in terms of an economic return, but also a social return.

With our early intervention community bringing their time and their skills to some of society’s most intractable social problems, and what’s more, using interventions targeted to restore opportunity and hope to the most disadvantaged families, we can set children on the path to a productive and independent life beyond the state.

Laying the future foundations for a strong and stable society.

Published 18 May 2012