UK Politics

Troubleshooters scheme to tackle 'troubled families'

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Media captionDavid Cameron: ''People in troubled families aren't worthless... I will not allow them to be written off''

David Cameron says he is determined to "get to grips" with tackling England's most troubled families by pledging a network of troubleshooters.

The PM promised more targeted support, with families getting one dedicated worker rather than a "string of well-meaning, disconnected officials".

The government will provide £448m - but councils must provide 60% of funding.

Labour say ministers have cut Family Intervention Projects and the work councils had been doing on the issue.

Mr Cameron has promised to turn around the lives of 120,000 families by 2015.

Under the government's measure, families need to meet five out of seven criteria - including truanting children, parents with addiction and anti-social behaviour - to be classified as "troubled".

'Ruining their lives'

The government is diverting £448m from existing departmental budgets over four years to help pay for a network of people who will identify families in need of help, make sure they get access to the right services and ensure that action is taken.

But the money will only cover 40% of costs, and councils who want to use it will have to agree to fund the other 60% themselves. Workers will be "paid by results", Mr Cameron said - for example, are children in school and has anti-social behaviour stopped?

Progress will be reported to Louise Casey, the newly appointed head of the Troubled Families Team.

BBC political correspondent Carole Walker said local authorities would hire the troubleshooters, who could be from organisations including local charities and private firms.

But she said there were some concerns that the money was not enough to tackle the problem, and cash-strapped councils would have to find much of the funding themselves.

Families which refuse to co-operate could face benefit sanctions or eviction - but Downing Street says the vast majority want help with their problems.

In a speech in Birmingham, Mr Cameron said he was an optimist, and the families depicted in the press as "neighbours from hell" should not be "written off as unreadable or unteachable".

He rejected arguments that a "Shameless culture" was now part of British life, and said it was only a relatively small amount of people who were causing "a large proportion of problems in our society".

He said there had to be a big change in the way the state interacted with such families, as different agencies currently dealt with different problems: "No-one sees the whole family, no-one grips the whole problem."

Instead of a top-down approach which families could find "faceless, disjointed and unhelpful", he wanted to "empower" families to sort out their own problems by providing them with a single person to deal with.

While he said his scheme was a "big ask", he believed turning their lives around was "doable".

Ministers are modelling their strategy on the family intervention project adopted by the last Labour government, in which a single social worker is sent in to gain an overview of the problems facing a family and to recommend the best course of action.

The prime minister said troubleshooters would work out a plan of action with families, which could include basic things like getting children to school on time and making sure they were properly fed.

And they would help deal with the "28 or more different state services that come calling at the door" so that rather than a string of "disconnected" officials, they could get a "clear hard-headed recognition of how the family is going wrong".

'Incredibly effective'

Hilton Dawson, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers and a former Labour MP, criticised the PM's words about officials as "yet another pointless attack on the very people whose life's work it is to help others".

Dame Clare Tickell, chief executive of the charity Action for Children, which works with troubled families, welcomed the "renewed focus" on the issue and said that in her experience, a lot of the families felt overwhelmed and were "delighted" to have help sorting out their problems.

"If you can get alongside them - and the voluntary sector is particularly good at doing that - and help them to work out solutions to their own problems, in a co-ordinated way, that can be incredibly effective."

Ministers say troubled families are costing the state an estimated £9bn a year in terms of spending on the NHS, the police and social services.

Most support for families is now provided through local authorities, although sometimes contracted out to other organisations. However, funding for early intervention grants has been cut by more than 10%.

Barnardo's chief executive Anne Marie Carrie said the voluntary sector had an important role to play in helping families and should be involved in planning and delivering services.

But she added: "Worryingly, 67% of Barnardo's services that have been hit hardest by local authority cuts have been those which provide family support or early intervention for children in difficulty. This means some families now have to wait until their problems are more serious before getting the help they need."

For Labour, Gloria De Piero said there was only so much troubleshooters could do when cuts were hitting family intervention projects.

"In addition, the government has torn up Labour's total place programme, which was bringing together all of the local agencies needed to provide services to families, and saved money, setting this work back.

"This is important work but if David Cameron demands results from local authorities whilst pulling the carpet from beneath them while reforms are being shelved, this could be a wasted opportunity to properly expand Labour's family intervention policies."

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