Posted by: Jules Birch25/08/2011
Family intervention seems certain to form a key part of the response to the riots - but is the government doing enough?
So far most of the political noise has been about the police and legal response, with the government pondering evictions and the withdrawal of benefits.
There are all kinds of problems with measures like this, as I blogged last week, but even the most hardline ministers and local authorities concede that evictions will not be enough on their own and the idea clearly divides Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
So I was struck by a piece on conservativehome by Cllr Nickie Aiken, cabinet member for children, young people and community protection at Conservative-run Westminster City Council.
The council launched what it calls a Family Recovery Programme in 2008 and it’s since been cited by ministers as a model example of the family intervention approach.
The idea is to support the most vulnerable and troubled families in the borough for six to 12 months and use the expertise of a multi-agency team of professionals to assess them and intervene. Families taking part have to sign an agreement that sets out sanctions including evictions, parenting orders and care proceedings if they repeatedly refuse to cooperate.
‘The Family Recovery Programme’s success comes in its simplicity,’ says Cllr Aiken. ‘By sharing information, coordinating resources and pooling expertise local agencies can help our most troubled families.
As such it fits exactly with the pledge by David Cameron last week to address the problems caused by 120,000 ‘problem families’ (and a very similar one by Gordon Brown three years ago to target 110,000 families).
According to Cllr Aiken, the programme even saves money. ‘The statistics speak for themselves,’ she says. ‘An initial £1 spent on Family Recovery is estimated to help avoid £3 to £4 after 24 months.’
So what’s the problem? The progamme was seen as so successful that it informed the national launch of community budgets last year where 16 areas were given pooled budgets to tackle the families with the most complex needs.
But Cllr Aiken says the rhetoric has yet to meet the reality. ‘Pooled budgets, including those from large government departments, have failed to materialise and local authorities have struggled to fund programmes despite being able to demonstrate results due to a lack of financial support from Whitehall. Even a Department for Communities and Local Government ‘stock take’ noted that a lack of pooling had stymied the pilot programme’s progress.’
One reason seems to be that other parts of the public sector are reluctant to cooperate with local authorities in the pooled budgets despite clear evidence that family intervention delivers savings for all of them - and ministers elsewhere in Whitehall are reluctant to force them.
And so another programme that saves far more than it costs seems to be struggling (Supporting People, remember, saves more than £2 for every £1 spent) because it doesn’t fit with Whitehall power structures.
Speaking of which, another problem is looming for family intervention in general and Westminster in particular.
According to a council report in June on the implications of the housing benefit changes, 15 of the 51 families in its Family Recovery Programme are in the private rented sector. What will happen to them if they are forced to move out of the borough by the caps?
I’ve asked Wesminster the question but it also begs a wider one about the winners and losers when families on the local housing allowance are shunted around by the caps (and potentially by more draconian evictions policy too).
From Inside edge
Housing commentator Jules Birch puts the latest news in context