Delivering for troubled families?

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Cast your mind back, if you can, to the days when the Prime Minister oozed personal authority. Before the negotiations, before that election, and fresh from her coronation, she quickly set about highlighting points of difference between her and her predecessor. Gone was the rhetorical cosiness with China; gone was the default business-friendly stance; and gone was Cameron and Osborne’s relaxed attitude towards immigration (despite what they said).

A few significant things did survive, however. One of them was the Troubled Families Programme. Eyebrows were raised at the time – the evidence justifying the £1bn outlay was patchy – but in many ways the policy fitted in with an emerging ‘Mayism’. That is, more robust government intervention and a commitment to help those that are ‘just about managing’: The JAMs – remember those? Although as Lord Bourne pointed out in 2016, ‘not managing at all’ probably better describes the programme’s targets.

Here’s how it works. Local authorities identify families who have two problems out of a list of six. They include things like truancy, domestic violence, and long-term unemployment. These families are assigned one key worker to be a single point of contact. The local authority then receives £1000 up front per family, and an additional £800 contingent on outcomes. The principle is a sound one. It works with whole families, looking at their often-interconnected problems in the round rather than through the different lenses of individual departments.

Three years on and the programme has been extended to 2020 and is working with 400,000 families.  This week Cratus listened as James Brokenshire, alongside the Centre for Social Justice, sought to address past criticisms of the programme’s (lack of) impact by announcing findings of a new (albeit internal) evaluation. There are some eye-catching numbers. In over 20,000 families there is now one or more adult that has moved into continuous employment; 95% of Troubled Families employment advisers say it’s having a long-term, positive effect; and juvenile custody is down 38% compared to in families outside the programme.

The timing of this latest evaluation is no coincidence. MHCLG is hoping that Philip Hammond’s forthcoming Spending Review will see it continue beyond 2020. And local authorities, of all political stripes, seem to be on side. This preventative programme is worth a significant amount of money to them (take Milton Keynes: £800k a year) as other sources of early intervention funding have been cut. Cllr Antoinette Bramble, Labour Deputy Mayor of Hackney and Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said this week: ‘we urge the Government to continue funding this vital service’.

In a moment of ugly partisanship, a Labour councillor praising a Conservative policy is worth savouring. And, yes, this Government and the last deserve some credit.

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