The Government should reform services to help troubled families and provide value for taxpayers

July 20, 2012 3:34 PM

The Department for Communities and Local Government has published a report by Louise Casey, head of the newly established Troubled Families Unit, outlining the dysfunctional lives of sixteen families across England.

Casey’s report tells the story of families who are struggling in the face of multiple problems, characterised by a cycle of disadvantage. Inter-generational educational failure, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence and drug and alcohol addiction are recurring themes. Many of the parents cannot control their children’s behaviour and have never worked in their lives. They want to get back on their feet but often feel they don’t know how.

What is clear from Casey’s report is the colossal burden on taxpayers that these families create. Troubled families, of which there are estimated to be 120,000 across England, cost the taxpayer around £9 billion a year, an average of £75,000 per family, according to the Government’s own figures. They place significant demands on local services such as health, social care and the criminal justice system, using huge amounts of public services.  One family was reported to have cost taxpayers in Manchester City Council £250,000 in just one year.

But of this £9 billion a year, the Government and local authorities spend £8 billion reacting to their problems rather than solving them. The remainder is spent on initiatives which are aimed at long-term prevention, but which have failed.

Last year, the Government announced that it would spend £448 million over three years, drawn from the budgets of six Government departments, on the new Troubled Families Programme which will provide a new approach to tackling the problems created by troubled families. The programme will focus on the dynamics of the whole family, rather than the individuals within it. It will mean that a single key worker will be assigned to a family to act as the main point of delivery of services for that family. Different agencies such as the police, social services, schools and health visitors will work together, rather than on their own.

This new approach involves a lot of taxpayers’ money. But the aim is to cut the overall cost while providing a better service with a single professional working with a family rather than multiple agencies. The Government deserves praise for its attempts to tackle these problems but it must also acknowledge that its own actions often do so much to create and exacerbate them in the first place. The scandal of our tax and benefits system is that through benefits it encourages people not to work while through taxes discouraging those who do. If the Government is serious about reducing the number of troubled families, it needs to raise the personal allowance further and faster, cut tax rates to stop penalizing hard work and boost jobs. Poorly designed services have been wasting both taxpayers’ money and the human potential of people in troubled circumstances. The Government must reform and improve services to ensure people are not left in the gaps between different agencies.  But taxpayers deserve value for money when the Government tries to tackle the root causes of the many problems associated with these families.The Department for Communities and Local Government has published a report by Louise Casey, head of the newly established Troubled Families Unit, outlining the dysfunctional lives of sixteen families across England.

Casey’s report tells the story of families who are struggling in the face of multiple problems, characterised by a cycle of disadvantage. Inter-generational educational failure, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence and drug and alcohol addiction are recurring themes. Many of the parents cannot control their children’s behaviour and have never worked in their lives. They want to get back on their feet but often feel they don’t know how.

What is clear from Casey’s report is the colossal burden on taxpayers that these families create. Troubled families, of which there are estimated to be 120,000 across England, cost the taxpayer around £9 billion a year, an average of £75,000 per family, according to the Government’s own figures. They place significant demands on local services such as health, social care and the criminal justice system, using huge amounts of public services.  One family was reported to have cost taxpayers in Manchester City Council £250,000 in just one year.

But of this £9 billion a year, the Government and local authorities spend £8 billion reacting to their problems rather than solving them. The remainder is spent on initiatives which are aimed at long-term prevention, but which have failed.

Last year, the Government announced that it would spend £448 million over three years, drawn from the budgets of six Government departments, on the new Troubled Families Programme which will provide a new approach to tackling the problems created by troubled families. The programme will focus on the dynamics of the whole family, rather than the individuals within it. It will mean that a single key worker will be assigned to a family to act as the main point of delivery of services for that family. Different agencies such as the police, social services, schools and health visitors will work together, rather than on their own.

This new approach involves a lot of taxpayers’ money. But the aim is to cut the overall cost while providing a better service with a single professional working with a family rather than multiple agencies. The Government deserves praise for its attempts to tackle these problems but it must also acknowledge that its own actions often do so much to create and exacerbate them in the first place. The scandal of our tax and benefits system is that through benefits it encourages people not to work while through taxes discouraging those who do. If the Government is serious about reducing the number of troubled families, it needs to raise the personal allowance further and faster, cut tax rates to stop penalizing hard work and boost jobs. Poorly designed services have been wasting both taxpayers’ money and the human potential of people in troubled circumstances. The Government must reform and improve services to ensure people are not left in the gaps between different agencies.  But taxpayers deserve value for money when the Government tries to tackle the root causes of the many problems associated with these families.

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