I watched intently yesterday as David Cameron announced a £450m plan to tackle Britain's worst 120,000 families. According to the Prime Minister, these families and their truancy, joblessness and anti-social behaviour cost Britain £9bn a year, and what we really need is someone to coordinate all the agencies that work with them to make them be less Shameless, more Waltons.
Frankly, I think someone needs to redo their calculations. £9bn sounds like an awful lot of money. Even if it is accurate, the government is now planning to tackle these families with a mere 5% of the previous budget. More worrying than that, this £450m will be split over four years, so it's actually only 1.25% of the budget per year.
Staggeringly, it gets more worrying, as the government will only stump up 40% of the money, leaving already stretched councils to provide 60% of the money per year - £67.5m a year.
This is stupid. Councils are already stretched - Nottingham suffered huge cuts last year and anticipate more of the same in April. So the government has now told councils (in spite of decentralisation, localism and Big Society) they've got to find a pile more money for a new project to fix "broken society." Drugscope have already commented that they're concerned money will be pulled from existing drug and alcohol rehabilitation budgets. So there's a chance that the government will fix these 120,000 troublesome families and create a whole new generation of troubled families by reallocating already thin budgets!
There is no denying that certain families need help and that agencies very rarely know what the other are doing, so this ought to be welcome. Social workers would certainly welcome it, if there were any left. Cuts to social work up and down the country completely decimated the support social workers can offer, so while coordination is welcome, people to coordinate would be even more welcome.
You never know. They might be re-hired as "troubleshooters." What a title to put on your CV, "Troubleshooter." Never mind your CV, how do you introduce yourself to these families that need help? Hello, I'm Bob, I'm your troubleshooter? It's preposterous. It has the potential to give people a new respect tag, like the ASBO became at its height. Some people revel in how hard they are to manage, this just confirms it. We don't even know what the qualifications needed are, save that Eric Pickles thinks Eammon Holmes could do it.
Tories tell us we shouldn't dwell on the past, on Labour run initiatives like ASBOs. It's the coalition now and they should do what they see is fit and best, apparently, and only blame Labour for the state we're in now. This seems to be the mantra of this government: Labour bad, us good. What infuriated me yesterday about the troubleshooters is that these families were already being dealt with before they became problem families under a Labour initiative called Early Intervention, penned by Nottingham North MP Graham Allen. In his letter to the Prime Minister from January, Mr Allen summarises Early Intervention as,
"An approach which offers our country a real opportunity to make lasting improvements in the lives of our children, to forestall many persistent social problems and end their transmission from one generation to the next, and to make long-term savings in public spending. It covers a range of tried and tested policies for the first three years of children's lives to give them the essential social and emotional security they need for the rest of their lives."
He criticises Britain's "late reaction culture" in the same report. Ironic, really: Allen submitted this in July and "troubleshooters" are being brought in as a response to the August riots. Hmm. Allen suggests Early Intervention as a model for progress and support for people through their lives. Its costs are lower, its outcomes better and prevents problems longer term.
It frustrates me that this tried, tested and proven approach to coping with "problem" families has been cast aside despite support and aplomb, and instead the government has driven forward with a plan panickedly thrown together because of the riots. The government needs to stop reinventing the wheel and stop making decisions in a vacuum if they really want to help people. Helping troubled families isn't a political football or a point scoring exercise, it's an investment in the country's future. Troubleshooters feel like a bad investment with not enough money, which is a recipe for disaster.
Follow Ferg Slade on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Ferg_Slade