The media buzzes again today with discussion about help for Cameron’s 120,000 “troubled families”. (BBC article here)
The term itself has fallen into disrepute, not least since revelations regarding the integrity of the statistical base for the government’s claims. (Tim Harford’s excellent radio article here) However, we are in danger of focusing so much on the blatant disregard of facts that we forget that there are indeed many families in dire need of help, whether the 120,000 experiencing multiple disadvantage, or the families (quantity unknown) about whom Cameron was actually talking. There will, presumably, be some overlap, but the suggestion that being poor, unwell or disabled, and in substandard housing, automatically qualifies you as a “neighbour from hell” is deeply offensive. In a post today, Declan Gaffney suggests that the situation could be easily redeemed, and our attention refocused presumably, if government spokespeople would only admit to the flaws.
The £450m on offer is very welcomed by those planning work with these families, but let us remember that there have already been successful Family Intervention Project programmes running for some years, some of which have been subject to funding cuts since Cameron came to power. These established, joined-up services had themselves developed an expertise in terms of knowledge, understanding, resources and responses.
Today Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, is reported as saying, ‘Sometimes we’ve run away from categorising, stigmatising, laying blame.’ There is the suggestion that families, specifically parents, should be required to take greater responsibility for their situations and their actions. Yes, we should all accept responsibility for those things which are within our control and at which we fail. But we should never simply assume that a chaotic and dysfunctional household is the lifestyle of choice for such families. Many factors have come together over the years to bring about a loss of control and discipline over the children, a less than middle-class approach to home ownership and repair, a degree of violence within and without the home which is at odds with the law. Family Intervention Projects have achieved a marked degree of success. They do so by dedicated, long term, commitment, not by indulging bad behaviour or glossing over the problems, and certainly not by pointing the finger.