According to a study commissioned by the advice and counselling charity Youth Access, young people with social welfare problems cost public services millions of pounds a year by the time they eventually access help.
The report surveyed 188 young people who used youth advice services across 14 providers, collecting detailed information on the type of problems they had faced.
Based on this data, the report estimates that a typical young person has already cost social care, homelessness and health services an average of £13,000 in relation to their problems before seeking advice, spending that “could be avoided by ensuring earlier access”.
The charity is calling for investment in youth advice services, claiming that a typical intervention costing around £100 could stop a young person's problems escalating.
The study highlighted “strong links” between young people’s social welfare problems and mental ill-health.
It found that around two-thirds of young people going to youth advice agencies for help with housing, benefit and employment problems had a diagnosable mental health problem.
The charity warned that a combination of welfare reforms and rising homelessness will see numbers of young people in need of help rise, which could “over-burden” NHS budgets.
Barbara Rayment, director of Youth Access, said investment in advice services is necessary to address problems before they escalate.
“Failing to address rising social welfare problems could cripple NHS and social care budgets,” she said. “The research indicates that youth advice services are clearly cost-effective, even when viewed only in terms of their impact on mental health.”
She added that given budget cuts, the “only viable solution” is for local planners and commissioners to “come together” across youth, public health, housing and social care boundaries to reconfigure statutory services and jointly commission early advice services.
Eleanor Clarke, manager of the Youth Advice Centre in Brighton and Hove, which took part in the research, said there has been a three-fold increase in the number of young people presenting with housing, money and mental health problems in the past year.
“Local services for young people have experienced deep cuts and our resources are increasingly stretched,” she said. “We are deeply concerned about our capacity to meet young people’s needs in the future as welfare benefit changes impact on our clients.”