England riots: Cameron to boost troubled-families plans

Prime Minister David Cameron speaks at Oxfordshire youth centre Mr Cameron called for 'urgent action' on troubled families

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he will put "rocket boosters" under efforts to turn round 120,000 troubled families in the wake of recent rioting.

He said the government should be less sensitive to claims that intervening was "interfering or nannying".

Mr Cameron said bureaucracy was hampering support for families facing multiple problems.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said parenting was a big issue, but warned against knee-jerk reactions.

Last December, Mr Cameron said he wanted to "turn round every troubled family in the country" by the end of the current parliament.

At the time, the Department for Education said there were 120,000 families in England with multiple and complex social, health and economic problems.

Mr Cameron has sought to expand the use of the family intervention project model, which was adopted under Labour.

It seeks to help families who face a combination of problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, unemployment, poverty and anti-social behaviour and truancy.

'Problem' families

Support usually involves allocating a single social worker to gain an overview of the problems facing the family, including having to deal with up to 20 different government agencies and support services.

"We've got to get out there and make a positive difference to the way families work, the way people bring up their children," said Mr Cameron, speaking at a youth centre in Oxfordshire.

"We need more urgent action... on the families that some people call 'problem', others call 'troubled'," he said.

In December, he appointed entrepreneur Emma Harrison as a "family champion" to lead a drive to get workless families back into employment, also using a similar model.

At the time, she said there were thought to be 125,000 that had never worked, and these were the "troubled families" that a lot of social problems "stem from".

However, Mr Cameron said bureaucracy had "held back" this work, and promised to "clear away the red tape".

Most support for families with multiple problems is now provided through local authorities - though sometimes contracted out to other organisations - and funded by the Early Intervention Grant, which was essentially cut by 11% in 2011.

The grant also funds Sure Start children's centres and work in areas such as teenage pregnancy and youth crime.

However, an additional £30m over four years was designated in December to support couples and to help children when relationships break down.

Dame Clare Tickell, the head of Action for Children, told BBC Radio 4 that some of the family intervention projects the charity runs were closing.

She said this was probably an "unintended consequence" of passing the responsibility to local authorities at a time when they faced budget cuts.

"They are seeing them not necessarily as the priority that they used to be," she said.

'No father'

Mr Cameron said it was necessary to start with the issues of family and parenting "if we want to have any hope of mending our broken society".

He said he did not doubt that many of the rioters had no father at home.

In future, he said, he wanted a "family test" applied to all domestic policy.

"If it hurts families, if it undermines commitment, if it tramples over the values that keep people together, or stops families from being together, then we shouldn't do it," he said.

Mr Cameron also said he wanted to "push further, faster" on policies to improve schools.

He asked whether enough was being done to ensure good new schools were set up in the poorest areas, and to hold underperforming schools to account.

'Stereotypes and prejudices'

Mr Miliband also backed the work of family intervention projects and said there were "big issues of parental responsibility".

But he warned against "wheeling out the old stereotypes and prejudices".

"Some people say it's all about family breakdown, but there are single parents who do a brilliant job and two-parent families who do a terrible job," he said.

"Some people say it's all about the feckless at the bottom, but there are rich families unable to control their kids and poor families who do it very well," he added.

He called for a "national conversation" about the causes of the riots, and warned against "knee-jerk gimmicks".

Separately, London Mayor Boris Johnson, called for courts to be able to refer young people aged 11-15 who have been involved in rioting to pupil-referral units.

These are specialist schools which provide specialist teaching for children with behavioural problems - often those who have been excluded from mainstream schools.

The families charity 4Children welcomed the prime minister's comments.

But it said targeting 120,000 families was "not enough unless it is part of a wider commitment to help a broader category of families to prevent their problems developing into crises".

"We need a revolution in the way we support and strengthen families which turns around problems now and doesn't wait for a crisis before intervening," said chief executive Anne Longfield.

However, the Child Poverty Action Group said the government needed to rethink policies that were harming families.

"Attacking child benefit, cutting tax credits and reducing support for childcare all flunk the Family Test, hurt families and weaken our society," said Imran Hussain, the group's head of policy.

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