Problem families 'costing taxpayers £9bn a year'

Ministers aim to stop money being 'squandered' on schemes that fail to tackle social breakdown

A hard core of problem families is costing the taxpayer £9bn a year, ministers claimed yesterday ahead of the launch of an assault on those "locked in a cycle of state dependency".

Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, said public money had been "squandered" on schemes that fail to deal with the causes of social breakdown, which begins with truancy and worklessness but leads to gangs, crime, violence and children being taken into care.

This week David Cameron will unveil the latest attempt to tackle the deep-seated problems that blight parts of the country, mainly in inner-city areas. For the first time the Government will give a definition of a "troubled family", comprising seven factors, including having a low income, no one in the family working, having poor housing and parents having no qualifications. The Government's Troubled Families Team, led by the former head of Tony Blair's Respect Task Force, Louise Casey, estimates that 120,000 families could be covered by the criteria. Ms Casey was appointed last month to lead the Government's fightback after the summer riots.

Ministers say that £8bn of the £9bn is spent reacting to the troubles caused and experienced by these families. They believe the new multimillion-pound programme will tackle the source of the problems, saving money that would otherwise be spent later in the criminal justice system, health service or social services.

"Over the years millions have been squandered on fruitless, unco-ordinated investment and we can no longer afford to foot the bill," Mr Pickles said. "Worklessness has been passed down from generation to generation. The moment some children are born their life chances are simply written off. And this has got to stop."

Ministers are to cut the number of agencies dealing with problem families, after research found that up to 20 different bodies can be involved in dealing with the same family.

A small number of families can have a devastating impact. A study in Birmingham found that two of the city's biggest gangs, the Johnson Crew and Burger Bar Boys, each contained five dynastic criminal families, costing the taxpayer £187m in the past 40 years. On 2 January 2003, Letisha Shakespeare, 17, and Charlene Ellis, 18, were shot and killed after being accidentally caught up in a feud between the two gangs.

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