D&S column: ensuring the Troubled Families programme delivers

One of my responsibilities as the Minister for Local Government is looking after a Government programme to help families facing some of the most difficult problems.

That could mean committing crime and anti-social behaviour, drug use, debt, truancy, unemployment, mental health problems and domestic abuse.

The Troubled Families programme targets those families tackling many of these challenges. By intervening earlier and providing a key worker to help the whole family, it gives them the practical help they need to break out of what can seem like an inexorable downward spiral which is costly both in terms of human misery suffered by those affected and to the taxpayer in burdens on the justice system, social care and health services.

The programme recognises that often family is the bedrock on which everything else is built. Within the family we learn the value of love and support, in good times and bad. It shapes our ability to form healthy relationships in the future. It influences how well we do at school and into adulthood. It is the means by which we first connect to the wider community and then the world beyond. When families thrive, we all thrive. Yet sadly, the reverse is also true.

It works by local authorities identifying relevant families in their area and assigning a key worker to act as a single point of contact. They organise services to get to grips with the family’s problems and work with them in a persistent and assertive way towards an agreed improvement plan.

Central Government pays local authorities by results for each family that meet set criteria or move into continuous employment.

My responsibility is to ensure the £1bn the Government has pumped into the programme so far is spent effectively and delivers results – both in terms of better life opportunities for the affected families and value for money for the taxpayer. A core principle of the programme is that money spent on early intervention saves money later when problems can multiply and draw in more public resources coping with the often-distressing outcomes.

The most recent report on the programme’s progress, presented to Parliament last month, is encouraging.

Almost 400,000 families across the country have now benefited from the programme of targeted intervention since 2015.

When compared to a similar comparison group over multiple years, the programme saw:

  • The number of children going into care down by a third.
  • The number of adults going to prison down by a quarter and juvenile convictions down by 15 per cent.
  • Ten per cent fewer people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance.

I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of seeing the programme in action here in North Yorkshire and around the UK, talking extensively to the families and their key workers about their lives and how this Programme works. The “whole family” approach doesn’t deal with problems in isolation but tackles underlying issues, which sometimes date back years.

The North Yorkshire approach has been particularly successful using the available funding for its Prevention Service. More than 1,700 families here have been judged to have made significant progress or been in continuous employment – and that is one of the best results in the country.

My thanks to all involved at County Hall and around North Yorkshire in making such a tremendous difference in improving the lives and prospects of these families.