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Helping troubled families

11 June 2012

7:15 PM

11 June 2012

7:15 PM

Earlier today, the government, in the form of Eric Pickles, announced that it was launching new incentives to encourage local councils to improve the lives of 120,000 families, identified as ‘troubled families’ by the Social Exclusion Task Force in 2007. Those incentives are:

A). £3,900 for each family whose children attain 85 per cent attendance at school.

B). £4,000 for each adult in a troubled family who holds down a job for three months.

The measures have been welcomed by the Local Government Association, which does not praise this government all that often.

The cynic will say that the LGA is merely welcoming more money for its associates. While that it is partly true, it’s also worth noting that this is an area of policy where the government has &”listened”, to adopt its favour bon mot, and decided that spending must be increased where possible.   

By which you’ll gather that we’ve been here before. Last December, the government published its intention to use ‘troubleshooters’ to tackle the troubled families, who appeared to be descendants of Tony Blair’s ‘Respect Agenda’ caseworkers, but they would have to operate in a more restrained spending environment. Matt Cavanagh, who worked in this area under the previous government, wrote about this at the time and his analysis is worth revisiting in light of today’s news. Here’s a brief summary with my additional questions in parenthesis:

1). Methodology. The Social Exclusion Task Force report upon which this policy is based is 5 years old. In addition to possibly being out of date, it did not examine criminal or anti-social behaviour perpetrated by ‘troubled family’ members. (To which I add that several criminal barristers report that magistrates’ courts and youth courts are full of repeat offenders from deprived or troubled backgrounds, and that, anecdotally, the incidence of those prosecutions is increasing.) Should the government commission new research in order to address these problems?

2). Funding. Without effective targeting, funding is likely to cover barely half of the estimated 120,000 cases. The need for results may push authorities to tackle ‘easy’ cases (and presumably incentivising councils will only intensify this danger).

3). The emphasis on work. The government is entirely correct to focus on work, particularly as inherited unemployment deepens the problems associated with troubled families. But, forging stability in these people’s lives is essential if lasting work is to be found. How is that to be achieved? (And how is stability to be defined?)

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