Eric Pickles MP is the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Follow him on Twitter here.
New figures released this week have shown what a significant difference the Government's troubled families programme is making in England. 14,000 families have been turned round so far, which means their kids are back in school for three terms or more; levels of crime and anti-social behaviour have been cut by two thirds, and in some cases one of the adults is off welfare and has got a job – perhaps the first job in the family for generations.
The scheme is working because for the first time troubled families are being shown a bit of tough love. For too long the system allowed them to be cuddled into the system, giving the most vulnerable no obvious exit from the cycle of despair. This was not only damaging to one generation but to the future generations growing up in households without role models, rules or any idea of routine or structure.
As the success of our scheme is showing, the majority of these families want to get their lives back on track, and have embraced the practical help offered with open arms. It may not appear revolutionary at first but this approach represents a radically different way of working with troubled families, many of which have been struggling for years – sometimes decades. Instead of multiple agencies dealing with a parent's mental health problems or unemployment, police sorting out an older kid's drunken bad behaviour and a social worker with the younger child’s trouble at school, the whole family gets help to sort out problems together.
The little things like teaching a family how to use a washing machine, helping them manage their rent payments or explaining to them the importance of time keeping play a vital part in stabilizing a families' future. All these small changes gradually, over time, knit together and help to create the fabric of a family. It is only then that the bigger hurdles like getting an adult back into work, a child to go to school or a reduction in criminal behaviour can be met, and a family considered successfully turned around.
Families involved with this programme benefit from this practical, no-nonsense help with the right balance of challenge and support. It may sound obvious but public services just haven’t been set up like this before. And it works. Families who are in constant trouble with the police, who might be on the point of eviction or of having their children taken into care are coming back from the brink of total catastrophe and taking more responsibility for their own lives.
The tough love and sensible support offered by family intervention teams provides lasting solutions instead of temporary fixes. They refuse to accept that any family is beyond help: but they also say 'you can't carry on like this'. And the families themselves often find this opportunity a relief. Finally they’ve got their lives on track, have been given back some hope and discovered that they can make positive long lasting changes, and as a result their kids will have a better future.
As taxpayers, the success of the programme is also good news – it is saving you money. These families cost the country £9 billion, £8 billion of which is paid out simply reacting to problems – spent on police call outs, social workers and benefits, not on addressing the root causes of a problem. The hundreds of millions of pounds saved by this approach can then be reinvested into improving public services and vitally making sure that other families don’t reach crisis point in the first place.
There is also a far greater saving to consider than the financial one. When a families is turned around members of the law abiding community no longer have to live with the consequences of anti social behaviour – the noise, mess and misery these families can inflict on neighbours. Any problems can be sorted out and the families themselves can adapt and live beside others in a way they may not have thought possible.
Of course, there is still a long way to go. Over the next eighteen months, we want to reach 120,000 families across England, and are already working with 50,000 and getting them the help to change. With that change comes a renewed sense of hope, self esteem and a future for these families, which will ultimately make this country an even better place to live.