Usually when a reference is made to the “dependency culture” it concerns money. It is a comment on those who could and should be financially independent but instead find themselves living off state benefits. Certainly that is a huge aspect of it. But it is not just about money. This was illustrated by a powerful piece (£) in The Times this morning by Jenni Russell. She described the problems that the Troubled Families Initiative – which aims to turn around 120,000 dysfunctional households – is seeking to overcome. She offers this example of the challenge and the expensive failure of state intervention hitherto:
Only that morning the mother had opened the door with her usual truculent air and had said that her young daughter wasn’t at nursery
because the Sure Start worker hadn’t come to take her there. Her teenage son wasn’t at school because she couldn’t get him out of bed; someone from the school should deal with it. She had missed children’s appointments because the doctors’ surgery hadn’t reminded her of it, and she hadn’t followed up on the social worker’s tentative suggestion that she should give up smoking or do some tidying up because she didn’t feel up to it.
The result of all this official oversight, the social worker said, was a family whose behaviour never changed, whose living conditions never improved and who had learnt that others would take responsibility for what happened to them. Whatever the State imagined it was achieving, the reality was that it didn’t work.
Under the new approach a single individual works with such a family. That person offers practical help and co-ordinates all the other agencies. Rather than just giving lectures and then going away that individual helps establish a routine. It shows parents what might seem obvious but is not to those who were themselves brought up in chaotic circumstances. There is “tough love”. There are rewards and penalties – not just interviews and forms to fill in.
So far 62,000 families are involved in the programme and 22,000 have been “turned round.” That is that children have started going to school and crime has stopped. For 1,400 of them a parent has got a job and stuck at it for at least four months. Given that the programme is at the half way stage – 18 months of the three years scheduled – it is ahead of its targets.
It is planned to expand the programme to help 400,000 families.
Good news is no news, of course. However this is surely the Government’s most underrated success story. Credit must go to Louise Casey, the progarmme head and Eric Pickles, the cabinet minister responsible for it. Also to the 152 “upper tier” local authorities who have been delivering the results.