The Troubled Families Programme is a good example of a New Right social policy aimed at tackling criminality by targeting the so called underclass, it basically involves local authority workers intervening in so called troubled families in order to get them to take responsibility for their behaviour.
Following the riots in 2011, a new government initiative, the Troubled Families Programme (TFP), was announced, which set out to ‘turn around’ the 120,000 most ‘troubled families’ in England by May 2015.
The second phase of the TFP is now underway, following the ‘successful’ completion of Phase 1. The ‘massive expansion’ of the programme, to include 400,000 more ‘troubled families’, with wider-ranging criteria for inclusion, was announced in July 2013, when only 1 per cent of ‘troubled families’ had been ‘turned around’.
The concept of ‘troubled families’ came into the public consciousness in the aftermath of the English riots in 2011. Structural factors, such as poverty and racial inequality and injustice, were eschewed as possible factors behind the riots in favour of an explanation of ‘pure criminality’. Rioters were, in Cameron’s words, ‘people with a twisted moral code, people with a complete absence of self- restraint’. The blame for the riots, in the governments’ eyes, was split between poor parenting and anti-social families, and an overly generous welfare system that encouraged delinquency
In December 2011, the TFP was launched to help realise Cameron’s ambition to ‘turn round’ the lives of the 120,000 ‘troubled families’
The TFP then, was a policy response designed to not just address the problems caused by ‘troubled families’, but to also completely change the way the state interacted with them. Local authorities were expected to deliver the programme using a ‘family intervention’ approach (DCLG, 2012a) which had been rolled out to 53 areas in England under the previous Labour government’s Respect agenda. This approach sees a single ‘persistent, assertive and challenging’ (ibid) key worker working intensively with the family ‘from the inside out’ to address their problems, encouraging them to take responsibility for their circumstances.
‘Troubled families’ were officially defined as those who met three of the four following criteria:
- Are involved in youth crime or anti-social behaviour
- Have children who are regularly truanting or not in school
- Have an adult on out of work benefits
- Cause high costs to the taxpayer
Payment by Results
All 152 local authorities in England ‘signed up’ to take part in the TFP which was to be run on a Payment by Results basis, with local authorities paid an attachment fee for each ‘troubled family’ they worked with, and a further allocation of funding dependent on certain outcomes being met.
Families were deemed to have been ‘turned around’ if:
- Educational attendance improved above 85%, youth crime reduced by 33% and anti-social behaviour reduced by 60% across the family, or
- A family member moved off out-of-work benefits and into continuous employment for three or six months, depending on the benefits they were initially receiving (ibid)
Claims for ‘turning around’ ‘troubled families’ were submitted by local authorities on a quarterly basis.
In August 2014, further detail was announced on the expansion of the programme. The ‘new’ ‘troubled families’ were families that met two out of the following six criteria:
- Parents and children involved in crime or anti-social behaviour
- Children who have not been attending school regularly
- Children who need help
- Adults out of work or at risk of financial exclusion and young people at risk of worklessness
- Families affected by domestic violence and abuse
- Parents and children with a range of health problems
In May 2015, the government published figures that showed that local authorities had ‘turned around’ 99 per cent of ‘troubled families’. David Cameron called it a ‘real government success’.
Criticisms of the Troubled Families Programme
The Centre for Crime and Justice is very sceptical about the success-claims made by the government . They actually suggest 10 reasons why we should be suspicious of the 99% success rate, which they call a social policy impossibility, especially in an era of government cuts, but I’m going to focus on just two criticisms, which taken together seem to strongly suggest that the government is simply lying about the effectiveness of the TFP – I mean as in not just manipulating statistics, just literally lying.
Firstly – ‘Troubled Families’ are not actually that troubled
How ‘troublesome’ are ‘troubled families’?
In contrast to the image of ‘troubled families’ as ‘neighbours from hell’ where drug and alcohol addictions, crime and irresponsibility ‘cascade through generations’, an interim report from the national evaluation of the TFP (DCLG, 2014b) shows that in ‘troubled families’:
- 85% ‘had no adults with a criminal offence in the previous six months
- 97% had children with one or zero offences in the previous six months
- 84% had children who were not permanently excluded from school
- 26% had at least one adult in work
- 93% had no adults clinically diagnosed as being dependent on alcohol
The only characteristics shared by the majority of ‘troubled families’ are that they are white, not in work, live in social housing and have at least one household member experiencing poor health, illness and/or a disability. Crime, anti-social behaviour and substance abuse, even at relatively low levels, are all characteristics which relate to small minorities of official ‘troubled families’.
Secondly, we don’t actually know if lives really been ‘turned around’?
When many ‘troubled families’ experience unemployment and poor health, and some of them also experience issues such as domestic violence, it is unclear to what extent their lives will have been ‘turned around’ by the programme.
Only 10 per cent of all ‘turned around’ families gained work and, as noted above, no detail is known about the quality or security of that work.
Changes to educational attendance and anti-social behaviour/crime levels within households accounted for around 90 per cent of the ‘turned around’ families, but government figures show that the majority of ‘troubled families’ had children who were already attending school and were not committing large amounts of crime or anti-social behaviour on entry into the programme.
Furthermore, we do not know how many ‘turned around’ families are still experiencing domestic violence, poor mental health or other issues such as poor quality or overcrowded housing, poverty or material deprivation, because this information has not been reported by the government.
Further problems with assessing the effectiveness of the TFP
Basically, we don’t have the data to make an accurate assessment, hence why I say above that the government must be lying when they claim a 99% success rate.
Also, at present we are also not aware of whether the families consider their lives to have been ‘turned around’ by their involvement with the programme, or whether their lives remained ‘turned around’ after the intensive support was withdrawn.
It should also be noted that many families will not know that they have been labelled as ‘troubled families’ because many local authorities choose not to inform them of this and use different names for their local programmes.
The main source used in this post was: Stephen Crossley, The Troubled Families Programme: the perfect social policy? – Briefing Paper – November 2015
In defence of the troubled families programme (Conservative Home)
More than £1bn has had little impact on ‘troubled families’ (The Guardian)