Cllr Colin Barrow, leader of Westminster Council, says 3% of the families in his borough are in chronic difficulties causing great trouble and expense for the other 97%. He has a plan.

The impending recession will inevitably mean a change of emphasis from social and environmental to economic issues. But as stretched incomes and poorer job prospects impact on families, the need for Conservatives to address the pressing social problems identified in Breakdown Britain will become more urgent.

Westminster Council is currently trialling an approach to restore the pride and purpose of families facing the most chronic and complex difficulties. We think it will reduce crime, improve life chances and in time reduce public spending. It’s called Family Recovery and will use a combined public services team to address the needs of those families living in the heart of London who have a history of behavioural problems, from petty crime to drug abuse.

There are up to 600 families in Westminster, around 3% of the total population with these severe difficulties.  They account for around 80% of the social spending we undertake, a massive commitment to a tiny minority of citizens. These are people who may never live contented lives with a good job, whose children fail at school and live in homes where rent payments are made irregularly.

This cycle of decline is bad for them and for their neighbours. They
are responsible for a disproportionate amount of local crime and
anti-social behaviour. They take time and effort from public services –
particularly schools, social services and the police. They might have
up to 20 public service workers seeking to help them, costing hundreds
of thousands of pounds per family.

Westminster believes that joint action by local public services can
help these families. We intend to help them recover their self respect
by restoring a sense of personal responsibility through tangible
incentives and the threat of sanctions. This approach will be delivered
through a multi-disciplinary team of local public servants covering
police, council and health services. This group is called a Family
Assessment and Intervention Team. We are rationalising and targeting
the help that these families have previously received.

The Family Recovery programme will help parents who have fallen foul of
the law and are failing their children by offering them practical
support to be better parents and giving them opportunities gain skills
to get good jobs and help to live healthier lives. We’ll help their
children do well at school with extra tuition.

If these parents and young adults do not reform we will use the law to
ensure that they understand that the choices they make have
consequences that may lead to sanctions including potentially eviction,
withdrawal of benefits and in the case of criminal acts, prison.

The programme starts in autumn 2008, involves an initial investment of
£800,000 and we expect to be able to deliver results by December 2009.
In time we expect to see substantial benefits to the community in terms
of better behaviour, breaking the cycle of decline and to the taxpayer
in terms of releasing resources and reducing spending.

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