David Cameron pledges £448m to help problem families


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The Government will spend £448 million on "turning around the lives" of 120,000 problem families, David Cameron announced today.

In a speech to charities this morning, the Prime Minister said ministers were setting up a national network of "trouble-shooters" to tackle the country's hard core of chaotic households that cost taxpayers £9bn a year.

He pledged to reform the system that means a "string of well-meaning, disconnected officials" treat the "symptoms and not the causes" in difficult families.

Instead, there will be a "clear hard-headed recognition" of where families are going wrong.

Local authorities must identify who the troubled families are in their area and what services they use by February.

Councils will have to put up 60% of the cash needed to help them and the Government will stump up the remaining 40%, Mr Cameron said.

He added: "We need to provide leadership at the top, action in local authorities and results on the ground.

"We're not prescribing a single response. But we are demanding results from councils in return for support.

"For many of the most troubled families, there will be a family worker - a single point of contact for the first time for particular families, working out what the family needs, where the waste is and lining up the right services at the right time.

"When the front door opens and the worker goes in, they will see the family as a whole and get a plan of action together, agreed with the family. This will often be basic, practical things that are the building blocks of an orderly home and a responsible life.

"These things don't always cost a lot but they make all the difference. And they will get on top of the services, sorting out - and sometimes fending off - the 28 or more different state services that come calling at the door.

"Not a string of well-meaning, disconnected officials who end up treating the symptoms and not the causes.

"But a clear hard-headed recognition of how the family is going wrong - and what the family members themselves can do to take responsibility."

Mr Cameron said last December that he wanted to "turn round every troubled family in the country" by the end of the current Parliament and in October appointed Louise Casey as the head of a new Troubled Families Team.

But the summer riots "were a wake-up call", he said, "not a freak incident but a boiling over of problems that had been simmering for years".

The trouble-shooters will be responsible for identifying problem households and getting family case workers involved.

Mr Cameron said a targeted approach can "work wonders" with families.

He added: "This immense task will take new ways of thinking, committed local action, flexibility and perseverance.

"But I know too that it's a task we can't shirk. People in troubled families aren't worthless or pre-programmed to fail.

"I won't allow them to be written off.

"So we must get out there, help them turn their lives around and heal the scars of the broken society."

Sir Merrick Cockell, chairman of the Local Government Association, said: "Improving lives for families and residents is at the heart of what councils do and closer working between public sector agencies like job centres, schools, police, probation officers and social services locally will get better results and cost less.

"It is great news that the money announced today will go to local areas to build on much excellent work already under way. We must ensure this support gets to where it is most needed and is not tied up in endless bureaucracy and form filling.

"We are pleased Government has recognised the need for all departments to work much more closely with councils at a local level. This is vital to help us overcome historic hurdles which have stood in the way of the huge savings and greater local accountability this co-ordinated approach can deliver."

Former Labour Cabinet minister David Blunkett said: "The idea of co-ordinating all resources going into families where there has been a history of worklessness, a variety of forms of dysfunctionality, or troubled youngsters, makes absolute sense.

"However, it is critically important that what is delivered is genuinely a co-ordination of the various streams of funding that are currently available as well as the extra money - above all that there is consistency and quality.

"My worry is that with a substantial cutback in the local Sure Start programmes, a further reduction in investment in the Family Intervention Programmes, and regrettably also in child and adolescent mental health investment, we're taking with one hand while giving with the other."

Barnardo's chief executive Anne Marie Carrie said: "We are glad to see the Government has acted to support the most troubled families.

"Grassroots services that help prevent vulnerable children and families from getting into difficulties are key to making sure we don't store up problems for society in the future.

"The voluntary sector has an important role to play in reaching out to families with multiple needs, particularly as they may feel that accepting help from them is less stigmatising."

Enver Solomon, director of policy at the Children's Society, said: "Intensive family support coordinated by a dedicated skilled worker can make a real difference to chaotic families who have multiple needs.

"But it is important to recognise that there are no quick fixes for families and their children whose problems are often linked with challenging mental health needs, alcohol misuse and poverty.

"Turning around their lives can be a long term process that on the way involves success and failure depending a great deal on accessing good quality specialist support as well as achieving financial security."