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Troubled Families Programme

Volume 594: debated on Tuesday 10 March 2015

With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement about this Government’s troubled families programme. In 2011, the Prime Minister set a bold ambition for this Government that by the end of this Parliament we would turn around the lives of 120,000 of the country’s most troubled families. Turning their lives around meant: drastically reducing the antisocial behaviour and crime for which they were responsible; ensuring that truanting children were back attending school; and getting parents into jobs. Today, with great pride, I can announce to the House that 90% of the families we promised to help have achieved those outcomes. More than 105,000 families have had their lives turned around, and the programme still has three months left to run.

I want to extend my gratitude to the army of front-line workers who have worked tirelessly with those families to bring stability back to their lives. I also want to offer my congratulations to the families who have grasped the opportunity that this programme has offered to them to end a dysfunctional and negative way of life and offer their children a better future. I also want to put on record the fact that the programme exemplifies how central Government, local government and their partner public services can successfully work together with a sense of common endeavour and shared objectives. All 152 upper-tier local councils across England, irrespective of political control, have worked closely with my Department, and it is only by working together that we have delivered this challenging programme at great pace.

In 2011, I was deeply honoured when the Prime Minister asked me to lead this programme, but I was also acutely aware that its bold ambitions had eluded the efforts of previous Governments. Looking back, we can see how the success of the programme has come from its simplicity, and from the clear aims and straightforward methods that have captured the hearts and minds of public servants at all levels.

I am sure that many Members of the House will know the frustration that comes from seeing how our services and systems have failed to deal with the root causes of problems and only treated, or reacted to, the symptoms. How many of us know families in our constituencies who have been failed by services but have at the same time placed a huge and disproportionate burden on those services through successive generations? Young men follow in their fathers’ footsteps into trouble; young women fall victim to abusive relationships; and families push through the revolving doors of hard-pressed services with recurring problems of addiction, violence and mental and physical ill-health.

I believed that there was a better way for those hard-pressed services to operate and through the troubled families programme we have found it. Families in the programme have signed up to a plan that gets to the root cause of their problems and makes a real difference to their lives. It involves tough love and practical help from people who take a no-nonsense, persistent approach, who will not go away and will not give up, and who will not be put off by missed appointments or unanswered doors.

A typical family in the programme has nine different problems to contend with. A child’s bad behaviour and truancy leads to exclusion from school and a life of petty crime. The school tries to help, but its efforts are undone by a mum who simply cannot get out of bed in the morning to ensure that her son goes to school. She suffers from stress and anxiety and drinks heavily. Why? She is in arrears on her bills and is regularly beaten up by the boy’s dad. The result is that the child’s poor prospects become entrenched and the cycle of the family’s problems continues.

The key worker’s job is to break the cycle and they will prioritise what needs to change first. In this case, they will get the police and others to stop the violence and help the mum to budget better and start on a path to employment. For a while, the key worker will arrive at 7 am to ensure that she is up, making some breakfast for her son and packing him off to school. As her mental health improves and improvements grow, the key worker can step back, mentor and gradually let go.

The figures we are publishing today prove beyond doubt that the approach is working for families. It also helps the communities where they live and of course delivers substantial savings for the taxpayer. The key worker has replaced the expensive swarm of services buzzing around the family that deal with individual symptoms rather than addressing the root causes.

Today, my Department is releasing new information from local authorities that clearly demonstrates the savings generated by the programme. This year, Manchester estimates that for every £1 invested in family intervention, local public services receive an estimated £2.20 in savings. For Redcar and Cleveland, the figure was £1.94. For every four families helped under the programme, the equivalent of a police officer’s starting salary could be saved. In the London borough of Wandsworth during the first year of the programme, the total savings from reducing demand on the criminal justice system were nearly £1.2 million. The 70% reduction in domestic violence in the families being helped saved the borough £70,000. Salford has identified benefits to health services of £1,700 on average per family. Those savings follow a nearly 60% reduction in alcohol abuse and a 50% reduction in drug misuse in the 12 months following family intervention. If those savings were representative of all the 105,000 families who have been turned around by the programme so far, a total of £1.2 billion would be generated in gross fiscal benefits.

Those gains for the public purse are reason enough for celebration, but what makes me most proud of the programme is its impact on people’s lives, especially in getting family members into work. That is no easy task when we consider that they were previously a million miles from being able to hold down any kind of job. Figures released today show that more than 10,000 adults from troubled families have moved into sustained work. I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who placed 150 of his jobcentre advisers in local troubled families teams. They have worked wonders in some really challenging cases.

This approach works for taxpayers and the families involved in the programme, and this Government will build on that success. I am delighted that we have secured cross-Government support for an additional £200 million of funding for an expansion, to work with 400,000 more families from 2015 to 2020. That work has already started ahead of time in two thirds of areas.

I would like to end by referring to a letter from a head teacher in Leicestershire to her troubled families team. She confesses to being a

“notoriously grumpy Head Teacher on welfare issues”,

but says that the troubled families team is “something quite different” that she “can’t praise enough.” Why is that? It is because

“for once, everybody seems to know what is going on”.

She concludes by saying:

“I have never come across anything quite like this before.”

Neither have I. That is why I am genuinely honoured to have led this remarkable, life-changing programme for the Government, and why I am delighted that it is being expanded to help more troubled families across the country. I commend this statement to the House.

May I begin by thanking the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement, and for his personal commitment to providing support to local authorities up and down the country that are working with the most excluded families through the troubled families programme?

It is not often that we in this House pay tribute to public servants, and we do not do it as much as we should, so I would like to thank Louise Casey for the leadership she has shown and all the staff working in all the projects for their extraordinary dedication, patience and commitment. Their skill in, above all, building trust with the families they work with is absolutely fundamental if together they are to succeed.

We on the Opposition Benches support this important work. As the Secretary of State has generously acknowledged, the previous Labour Government started the family intervention project, and a future Labour Government would want to see this work continue and go from strength to strength.

As the Secretary of State will know, a number of local authorities and Labour pushed for the original criteria to be broadened to enable local authorities to provide support to those families most in need and to ensure that there was proper long-term follow-up to see whether families could maintain the progress that had been made. I welcome the fact that the Government listened to those representations and made the necessary changes.

It is clear that we need to provide hands-on support to families with multiple complex needs, in order to help them to break cycles of disadvantage. It is also clear that we need to move away from trying to contain problems, at great expense, towards trying to prevent them in the first place. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the concentration in the most deprived communities of families taking part in the troubled families programme? I ask that because we know that, under this Government, households living in areas that rank in the 10 most deprived communities have seen their local authority spending power reduced by 16 times as much as those in the 10 least deprived communities.

Demands on children’s services are increasing and the figures show that local authorities are doing their best to protect them. However, the National Audit Office has found that, between 2010-11 and 2014-15, budgeted spending on children’s social care actually fell by 4.3% on average in authorities with the highest cuts in Government funding, compared with real-terms increases of 14.8% in authorities with the lowest cuts. How is that going to help?

Last August, it was announced that the troubled families programme would be expanded to work with 400,000 more families from 2015 to 2020, with funding of £200 million for 2015-16, but the Secretary of State has just said that he has secured cross-Government support and an additional £200 million for its expansion from 2015 to 2020. Will he confirm whether that £200 million is for 2015-16 or for the whole period from 2015 to 2020?

The Secretary of State referred to the 10,000 adults who have moved into sustained work, which is a great achievement, but it still leaves more than 100,000 families where that has not happened. Would it not help those families if we were to guarantee a job, as Labour is proposing, to every adult who has been out of work for more than two years and every young person who has been out of work for more than a year?

The Secretary of State rightly talked about the problems that a number of these families have in paying bills. How many troubled families are being hit by the profoundly unfair bedroom tax? Surely, to help them, that tax should be scrapped, as we have committed to do? Why are the Government so intent on penalising people on the lowest incomes, and how many of those families currently rely on food banks to help feed their children?

Over this Parliament, the Secretary of State has spoken regularly about the number of families who have been turned around. However, within the original programme, a family could be so classified if they reduced the level of crime committed by just a third. Will he confirm whether such families are counted in the total he gave today?

In 2011, the Prime Minister said that troubled families were costing the state an estimated £9 billion a year. However, in his statement today, the Secretary of State said that if these savings were representative of all 105,000 families so far, it would generate a total of £1.2 billion in gross fiscal benefits. Can he square those two figures and confirm whether these savings are in fact being achieved? As he will be only too aware, demonstrating savings will be really important for securing future funding for the programme from other parts of Whitehall.

We know that intensive support really can help families transform their lives. Raising children can be challenging and we can all do with help and advice at times. We support the programme precisely because the local authorities that are implementing it on the ground are convinced that it makes a difference. However, the Government also have a responsibility to help all families, whether in difficulty or not, in other ways. Insecurity, zero-hours contracts, a lack of affordable housing and high rents are real concerns for them. If we are really to help all Britain’s families, we need a Government who will do something about those things as well.

I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. In particular, I would like to endorse his views on Louise Casey. It has been a privilege over the past five years to get to know a number of senior civil servants, but none have I enjoyed working with more than Louise, who is definitely one of a kind. She has been an absolute joy to work with. I also recognise that none of this could have been achieved without all-party support.

The right hon. Gentleman made a number of points on how we can demonstrate success and square the £1.2 billion with the £9 billion. He knows as well as anybody that this is notoriously difficult territory, because Governments of all types are absolutely terrible at measuring outcomes. We have made a start—he might have had an opportunity to look at the research—by looking at seven exemplar authorities and extrapolating the findings to produce some financial analysis. To answer his questions, I think that it is only fair to have that audited independently. As he will know, we are due to have a very comprehensive audit of the programme. I am confident that the exemplar authorities indicate what has been achieved. I think that I have been conservative—no pun intended—in estimating what can be achieved.

The right hon. Gentleman made a number of points about spending power. The point needs to be made that the Government are spending the most in the most deprived areas; we are spending an awful lot less on prosperous areas. I remind him, with great humility, that under the system in place before this Government came in, we were throwing money at the problem and achieving precisely nothing. By addressing some of the social ills, dealing with the problems, shoulder to shoulder with Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat councils, we have been able to achieve these benefits. It so happens that it is cheaper, but it is actually better and more caring, because we are not throwing people away, condemning them to a life on benefits.

Having been Minister for Criminal Justice at the birth of this programme, and having seen it operating on the front line in my constituency since, may I join my right hon. Friend in congratulating Louise Casey? I congratulate him on the leadership he has given, along with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, in bringing this home. I slightly regret the tone taken by the shadow Secretary of State, which I think disguises a recognition that the programme has really worked by bringing all the agencies together, which is something he and I saw back in 2000 when we served together on a Select Committee. I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that we learn the lessons that will emerge from the first four years of the programme and see that it carries on in the excellent way it has started.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. It is of course important that we learn the lessons of the programme. I think that it has been quite clear that by keeping things as simple as possible, by looking very carefully at the different criteria and by having a completely straightforward approach—some Members have suggested that we might be fiddling the figures by reducing crime, although reducing crime seems to me to be pretty important—we have kept the programme transparent, so people can actually see it. I believe that we have treated everyone in this process with respect, particularly the troubled families.

The Communities and Local Government Committee has been very supportive of the whole approach on troubled families. However, when the Secretary of State announced his expansion of the programme in 2013, the Committee pointed out that the increase in Government funding was not in proportion to the increase in the number of families to be helped. Does he believe that local authorities can be as successful in future, given the reduction in the amount that central Government spend per family? Given that savings to one public body can be a cost to another as part of the programme, will not real success in the end be the roll-out of whole-place community budgets, so that a proper account can be taken with a total approach to public expenditure in an area? How does he see that being rolled out alongside the troubled families programme?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very interesting point. It is usual for a Government to aim for the low-hanging fruit when starting such a programme, doing the easy things first before going on to those that are more difficult. We did exactly the reverse by starting with the most difficult families. The troubled families involved in the extended programme have nothing like the complex needs of those in the first tranche, so I think that it will be easier, cheaper and better when we start dealing with them. With regard to money coming in, he might be interested to know that in Sheffield there were 1,680 troubled families over that period, 100% of whom have been turned around, with expenditure of £6.6 million. In Leeds, there were 2,190 troubled families, 100% of whom have been turned around, with expenditure of £7.79 million.

I, too, congratulate the Secretary of State, Louise Casey and all those associated with the programme, not least the participants. How does he envisage the lifestyle changes being sustained as we move on to this very welcome and massive expansion of the programme?

We need to be absolutely clear that we are almost certainly not turning out model citizens. We are, however, giving children from troubled families the opportunity to have a better chance of success. That is something we are keen to monitor, check and make sure happens. In that way, we have an opportunity to break the cycle.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. The programme in Stockport is very impressive in bringing together local agencies to help families. He will be aware that there is an under-reporting of child abuse, child sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse in many of these families. Does he agree that one of the outcomes, in measuring the success of the programme, is the prevention of child abuse and child sexual exploitation in these families?

The hon. Lady is the author of a very good report on the subject of child sexual exploitation, and she and I discussed this matter at a seminar last week at Downing street. She makes a very reasonable point. I think the reason the programme has had a fair amount of success is that it does not deal with this problem through social services or the benefits agency alone. There have to be different disciplines in the room. The same applies to tackling child sexual exploitation. Social work is very well set up and very good at dealing with child sexual exploitation within a family; when the problem involves organised crime, it becomes more difficult to deal with. I think the point she made at the seminar is this: who would have thought that we would need to regulate taxis and the night-time economy to deal with child sexual exploitation? A broader approach will bring much better co-ordination and the greatest chance of success. I agree with her.

I, too, congratulate the Secretary of State on his vision, persistence and leadership in seeing through this very important programme that helps to change lives and transform people’s prospects. Will he tell the House how many children have benefited from this programme and will now be able to fulfil their true and fullest potential?

Time will tell how many children will benefit in the end. Getting children back into school and attending three successive terms makes a big difference. In my hon. Friend’s area, the total number of families we would describe as troubled is 2,560. Some 80% have been turned around. So far, just short of £10 million has been expended in that process.

I congratulate the Secretary of State, Louise Casey and the families who have turned their lives around. On behalf of my constituents, many of whom now have a more peaceful existence, may I also, through him, thank the front-line workers who have brought about these changes? In “Feeding Britain”, the cross-party inquiry into hunger in this country, the Secretary of State may recall that, although we drew attention to those families who simply did not have enough money to feed their children, there were other scallywags who could not be bothered to feed their children. Is it possible for him to confirm that schools, which prevent those children from being hungry, could in the next stage have the right to refer families directly to the troubled families unit?

It works, I think, remarkably well now. The right hon. Gentleman will recall that in the main part of my statement I referred to a head teacher from Leicestershire. It makes a big difference if we involve everyone. Sadly, I have not visited Birkenhead in this process—I know that 80% of the 910 troubled families there have been turned around, with £3.3 million expended—but I was fairly close by, to look at the team in Chester. It is the most remarkable thing to see a whole bunch of people from different disciplines sitting down together, including representatives of firefighters, who play an important part in picking up intelligence and information.

The families supported by this programme are often affected by multiple problems, which are then responded to by multiple agencies. Is the success of the scheme not due to the ability of Louise Casey and her team to cut across the previous silo mentality and join up the support that has enabled lives to be changed?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, who should know that there are 805 troubled families in his local authority. Some 99% of them have been turned around, with an expenditure of just slightly more than £2 million. Louise Casey is a remarkable woman, but this could not have been achieved by her presence and determination alone, formidable though they are. We are bringing people along and they are getting the opportunity to do something about the process. I have seen an enormous sense of leadership in different authorities right across the country, because they can now do something about the problem.

I welcome the announcement of the future funding for this programme, but the Secretary of State failed to answer my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and say whether the £200 million is for 2015-16 or the full five years of the next Parliament. On current funding, the Secretary of State has been withholding from Rotherham council about £750,000 in troubled families and transformation award funding. Given the special circumstances and the challenges we face, will he now release that funding to Rotherham?

As far as the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency is concerned, there are two local authorities. Barnsley, with 645 troubled families, has achieved a 95% turnaround, which has cost slightly more than £2 million. Rotherham, with 730 troubled families, has achieved a 89% turnaround, which, again, has cost slightly more than £2 million. He makes a really interesting point: even in that sea of dysfunction, the work with troubled families has been very successful. I am delighted to tell the right hon. Gentleman that I have released the money. The money will go to Rotherham today.

I sincerely thank my right hon. Friend for his leadership of this project, which has helped to turn around the lives of 1,165 families in West Sussex. Will he join me in sincerely thanking the workers in my constituency who have made such a positive difference to individuals and to our community as a whole?

I think the House is divided into those who know exactly the number of troubled families in their areas and those who do not. I confirm that my hon. Friend’s arithmetic is absolutely correct. I also confirm that the improvement is entirely due to the enormous hard work of the people in his area determined to make a difference.

This is an important and successful approach. It is the kind of approach that I took when I first started my social work career more than 30 years ago and that, in those days, many social work staff took. One of the reasons why silos developed was the pressure on budgets. Given that many local authorities have tried to protect children’s services but they continue to be under threat, how will the Secretary of State ensure that services, which are preventive and help troubled families through this programme and children’s services, continue and are given priority, so that we do not go backwards, whether with children’s services or troubled families?

The hon. Lady’s analysis is good. I think there has been too much silo building taking place inside local government. It has been almost like, to mix a metaphor, laagering the wagons. That has been a mistake. It is not possible to deal with something as complex as troubled families by relying solely on social work or a children’s department. It involves many other agencies. We get change in government when we deal with issues. We tend not to work terribly well when we become obsessed with governance.

The Secretary of State deserves praise for taking this originally Labour policy and pursuing it energetically to this stage, and on any other day I would welcome it and celebrate it with him unreservedly, but this is the day when Her Majesty’s inspectorate, Ofsted, revealed that two thirds of children’s services departments are in a dire situation. Children in this country are exposed to great danger, and departments up and down the country are at risk because of the cuts to local government finance. Will he put that in context and please come back to the House to tell us what he is going to do about it?

When the hon. Gentleman decides to give praise, I sincerely hope that I am here to see it, but I think that it is some distance in the future.

Given that the shadow Chancellor has made it absolutely clear that there is no additional money for local government, the hon. Gentleman’s comments ring rather hollow. Had he read the report carefully, he would have seen that it specifically states that our approach to troubled families offers them a future and the best way of doing things, and he should be aware that, in Kirklees, he has 1,115 troubled families and that 88% of them have been turned around, with an expenditure of just short of £4.5 million.

The savings the Secretary of State has mentioned are welcome, but surely the scheme’s value should be measured by its impact on individual lives and its success in lifting families out of hopelessness, bringing them into sustainable work and giving them hope for the future. I welcome that, but what consultation or discussions about the scheme has he had with the devolved Administrations?

We have kept the devolved Administrations completely informed of what we are doing, and I would urge them to take this up. It is clear that the project works, and I think that we could see benefits across the piece. I absolutely endorse what the hon. Gentleman says about the proof being life change—the money is great and the savings are wonderful, but it is the changed lives that we are after.