By Tim Montgomerie
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The Coalition may not be united on the significance of marriage but in the latest sign that it is making progress on family policy it has agreed a £448 million programme to address the challenges represented by Britain's 120,000 most chaotic families (1% of the total population). It appears that the money will be salami-sliced from other Whitehall budgets.
Later this morning the Prime Minister will announce this investment in 'Troubled Family Trouble Shooters' and will emphasise that while the Government is not insisting on a specific model of intervention it is expecting measurable results from every local authority that receives funding.
The network will be overseen by Louise Casey who has united Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat politicians in admiration for her tenacity and understanding of social problems. Although the work will be headquartered in Eric Pickles' Department of Communities and Local Government Ms Casey will be responsible for coordinating efforts across Whitehall. The overall aim of the work will be to provide one global assessment of a troubled family's needs and end the current system that means a troubled family deals with up to 28 different agencies of the state and, as a consequence, receives over and underlapping interventions.
Charities and voluntary groups will be invited to run these interventions and, over time, those initiatives that deliver the best results will get a bigger share of the troubled families pot.
Mr Cameron will say:
"For many of the most troubled families, there will be a family worker – a single point of contact for the first time for particular families, working out what the family needs, where the waste is and lining up the right services at the right time. When the front door opens and the worker goes in, they will see the family as a whole and get a plan of action together, agreed with the family. This will often be basic, practical things that are the building blocks of an orderly home and a responsible life. These things don’t always cost a lot but they make all the difference. And they will get on top of the services, sorting out – and sometimes fending off – the 28 or more different state services that come calling at the door. Not a string of well-meaning, disconnected officials who end up treating the symptoms and not the causes. But a clear hard-headed recognition of how the family is going wrong – and what the family members themselves can do to take responsibility."
Many ConHome readers will object to this new government programme but research (quoted in today's Guardian) suggests that "interventions attempted so far have been highly successful, and according to councils saved £2 for every £1 spent." The focus on 120,000 troubled families also has echoes of Michael Howard's approach to crime in the 1990s. Mr Howard concluded that a disproportionate percentage of crimes were committed by a very small number of people and if they were incarcerated crime would fall. He was right. It did. Nearly twenty years later David Cameron has decided that a similar focus on the 120,000 families will counter the anti-social behaviour problems that plague many communities. Families that refuse to comply with interventions will face undisclosed penalties according to The Sun. At the weekend Eric Pickles announced his department's estimates that these troubled families cost the taxpayer an average of £75,000 each (or £9 billion in total).
This troubled families initiative is the Government's biggest policy response so far to the summer's riots. Yesterday Theresa May also announced a review into stop and search powers. She has invited the Association of Chief Police Officers to ensure that "stop and search should be used proportionately, without prejudice, and with the support of local communities". Last month the Home Secretary also announced new action against gang culture.