Families: Troubled Families — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:52 pm on 7th January 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Conservative 2:52 pm, 7th January 2014

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made with the Troubled Families Programme.

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, this Government’s ambition to turn around the lives of 120,000 troubled families is on track. In November, 18 months into the three- year programme, we announced that more than half the families are being worked with and more than 22,000 have been turned around. This means that children are back in school, levels of youth crime and anti-social behaviour have been significantly reduced, and more than 1,400 adults from some of England’s hardest-to-help households are now in continuous work.

Photo of Lord Horam Lord Horam Conservative

That is very good news from a very important social programme. Can my noble friend tell me whether she is getting enough mentors on this programme? These are one-to-one relationships—that is the programme’s strength—and we need very good-quality mentors to do that. Secondly, is she getting enough co-operation from local authorities, which are in the driving seat on this?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for raising this important matter. As noble Lords have just heard me say, we define the term “troubled families” by using specific criteria. Often that does not give the true picture of just how entrenched those families are in terms of their dependency and how some of them have to deal with violence, drugs and crime in intergenerational families. In the past, lots of agencies have worked with them but got nowhere fast. On the point my noble friend raises, many social workers want to come forward and be the key worker in charge of working with those families. There has been no problem whatever with recruiting for that, and the local authorities have been very proactive in moving forward with this programme. As regards turning those families around, this programme is about reducing their dependency on the state and giving them, and especially their children, the chance of a decent life.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour

My Lords, the Troubled Families programme, as it is, is a good programme. But how would it help troubled families to turn their lives around positively if the Government were to cut £25 billion more from public expenditure, of which £12 billion would come from the social security budget?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

My Lords, when this Government came into office they were committed to the reform of our welfare system, and are, indeed, reforming it. We are also cutting back on some of those levels of payments which we considered unfair. As the noble Lord has just heard me say, we are also helping the most desperate of families so that they, too, have a chance of getting on in life. This Government’s approach is to make sure that we leave no one behind, and that is what we are doing.

Photo of Lord German Lord German Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the commitment that we have heard about benefit spend in future is a commitment for a future Government, not for this Government? Does she also agree that the Troubled Families programme, which is doing so well at the moment, acts as a suitable counterbalance to the sanctions regime, which comes from the benefits structure? But of course two separate government departments are involved there. Can she tell the House what arrangements there are for the linkages between local authorities and the DCLG and the DWP and Jobcentre Plus and all the mechanisms of government in that department?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The DCLG, the DWP and other departments across Whitehall are working together in an unprecedented manner on the Troubled Families programme. At local authority level, there is fantastic co-operation between local authorities and the DWP. We now have 152 Jobcentre Plus staff plugged in as part of the Troubled Families programme, directly concerned with securing work for the adults in these families.

Photo of Baroness Howarth of Breckland Baroness Howarth of Breckland Crossbench

My Lords, while accepting the value of the Troubled Families programme, does the Minister not accept that it is really important to get in early when working with families at a preventive level, and that hard-pressed social workers in local authorities find it increasingly difficult to do the work that would stop families falling into the sort of chaos that takes them into the Troubled Families programme?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

In this phase of the programme, with regard to the 120,000 families that we are working with and those that we have identified, a lot of problems stem back to earlier generations. Their problems are so entrenched that they go beyond the immediate family that we are focusing on. We have committed to extending this programme; new money is being committed for the next spending round. When we extend the programme, what we have planned to happen, and expect to happen, is to intervene with those families at an earlier stage, to prevent exactly what the noble Baroness has described.

Photo of The Bishop of St Albans The Bishop of St Albans Bishop

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that there is a considerable body of research and expertise pointing to the vital importance of relationship support in strengthening families? As there are no specific references to family relationships or positive family dynamics in the progress report, will she ask the Troubled Families programme to prioritise such support in the next phase of its work?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I understand the point that the right reverend Prelate makes. I can certainly assure him that, in the approach being taken by the programme, the key worker who works with every family is there to address all the fundamental problems that the family experiences—and, if that means relationship issues, that is what they will support that family on.

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, on the question of departments working together, the Minister will be aware of a parallel DWP programme focused on families with multiple problems. Both programmes fund improvements in employability, crime and anti-social behaviour, among a similar group of people, and both fund similar activities. However, there were separate assessments of need, separate business cases and the programmes were launched within four months of each other without any clear data to show which programme was best suited to addressing which issue. The NAO has pointed out that that led to poor performance and loss of value for money. What are the Government going to do about that?

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

The recent NAO report, as with all NAO reports, is a useful and constructive contribution to how we can extend and build on the work that we are doing. However, as the noble Lord has heard me explain, one measure that we have introduced is to use Jobcentre Plus staff in this programme to address specifically the issue of work, and there is great co-operation between the two departments.