New Life Chances Fund recognises the need for a joined-up approach to complex social issues

Yesterday the government launched the Life Chances Fund, an £80 million programme of social investment funding directed at a range of complex social issues. Expressions of interest are now open for two of the themes addressed by the Fund: drug and alcohol dependency and children’s services. Further call-outs around young people, early years, healthy lives and older people’s services will follow.

Photo: @minforcivsoc

Rob Wilson MP, Minister for Civil Society, at the launch of the Life Chances Fund.
Photo: @minforcivsoc

At the launch, Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson MP offered reassurance that working closely with the voluntary and community sector will continue to be a priority for government.

“This is about central and local government, academia and the voluntary sector all coming together to work at tackling some of the most entrenched social challenges we face,” he said, adding that addressing these challenges is even more important in light of the social divisions highlighted by the referendum.

The Life Chances Fund is designed to encourage more use of Social Impact Bonds, which commission services based on up-front payment by external investors to be repaid by commissioners as outcomes are achieved. Overseen by the Cabinet Office, it will ‘top up’ investment in locally commissioned Social Impact Bonds that deliver new and innovative programmes (rather than replacing existing funding). The £80 million fund is pooled from different departmental budgets, in the expectation that savings will be made across government.

The design of the Fund reflects a growing recognition that resolving complex social issues, such supporting people who are experiencing multiple needs, requires a cross-government approach. £30 million of the funding is allocated specifically for proposals addressing drug and alcohol dependence, and the scope for these recognises the close links between substance misuse and other outcomes including stable accommodation, reduced offending and improved mental health.

The Fund was conceived as part of a wider Life Chances Strategy, first announced by David Cameron in January as the centrepiece of the government’s commitment to tackling social disadvantage. The planned launch of the strategy was postponed in the wake of the EU referendum result, but officials have indicated that work on its themes is set to continue over the coming months.

MEAM welcomes the new funding provided by the Life Chances Fund, although it is clear that it can only achieve its aims if local areas continue to receive sufficient general resources to deliver the existing services on which any new interventions would build. We will continue to engage with officials as work on the Fund develops, and make the case for a comprehensive cross-government strategy to address the challenges faced by people experiencing multiple needs.

Yesterday also saw the launch of the Government Outcomes Lab, a partnership between the Cabinet Office and Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government aimed at providing independent support, data and evidence on outcomes-based commissioning. This is a particularly welcome development given the mixed success of payment-by-results to date, highlighted by the National Audit Office. The need for a more sophisticated understanding of the outcomes that services are trying to achieve has been a consistent theme of MEAM’s policy work with frontline services and people with experience of multiple needs.

If your organisation is considering social investment funding, we encourage you to read the Life Chances Fund criteria and application process. Expressions of interest are being invited from commissioners, service providers and intermediaries, and are due by 30 September 2016.