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David Cameron's Dickensian Values Are Harming Problem Families

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LARGE FAMILIES
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At the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) we are becoming increasingly concerned by the current re-emergence of notions of the deserving and the undeserving poor. We have a Conservative leader using the recession as a smokescreen to disguise a political agenda of cuts and reducing the public sector.

With his latest announcement, that 'troubleshooters' will be sent in to sort out 'problem' families, the government again shifts the spotlight away from the lack of education, employment, housing or any other basic human needs, and again puts the blame squarely on the weakest people in our society and the professionals whose life work it is to help them.

How lucky social workers are that the Prime Minister, who has no practical experience of social work himself, is on hand to offer a few tips:

"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."

I wonder what it is that he assumes social workers normally do, have a cup of tea, watch Jeremy Kyle and then leave?

These front doors that social workers have to step through are a million miles from Mr Cameron's Oxfordshire mansion.

He would be better served putting resources into social services instead of taking them away. Cuts driven through by his government are effectively culling family support services by taking all their resources.

We accuse the prime minister of spearheading a return to Dickensian values, where judgements of morality take precedence over basic human decency. He stands as a modern day Mr Bumble, deciding how much thin gruel to dole out to whoever he deems to be most worthy. The fact that he himself has emptied the cook pot seems to pass him by, "never mind, it's the pauper's fault for needing gruel in the first place!"

More alarmingly, his ideas are spreading. Earlier this month, the National Centre for Social Research's latest British Social Attitudes report revealed that while 75% of those questioned agreed that the income gap between rich and poor was too large, only just over a third (35%) believed the government should redistribute more to solve the problem.

The report also identified concern that benefits were too high and just encourages the workshy to remain out of work. Even children facing poverty did not escape censure, with 63% deciding that parents who don't want to work were responsible.

The government is promoting dangerous ideas about the poor and it is not listening to common sense. It is not listening to social workers, and it is not listening to its own advisors.

At the beginning of the year, Graham Allen MP's government commissioned report stated that putting resources into early intervention into families and setting children on the right path in life will help break the cycle of "dysfunction and under-achievement". The report identifies that decades of late intervention have failed and that major social problems have got worse not better.

"If we continue to fail, we will only perpetuate the cycle of wasted potential, low achievement, drink and drug misuse, unintended teenage pregnancy, low work aspirations, anti-social behaviour and lifetimes on benefits, which now typifies millions of lives and is repeated through succeeding generations," the report warns. It echoes findings by Professor Eileen Munro's seminal review of child protection, which endorses sure start children's centres and the health visitor service in early intervention.

Cameron's meaningless spouting about adoption league tables one minute and troubleshooters the next, says more about his commitment to media soundbites than to effecting genuine social change. He is pledging to spend more money he allegedly doesn't have on an initiative that has been proven by previous governments not to work.

The Prime Minister's comments about a "string of well-meaning, disconnected officials" are more applicable to the members of his government than to social workers.

Taking a big stick approach to families with multiple problems and chaotic lifestyles does not work. These families are a by-product of wider problems in society and cannot simply be asbo-ed out of existence.

We want to see the government put more money into approaches that have been evidenced to work, like establishing an Early Years Foundation and protecting sure start centres.

Professionals need to work with families in ways that bring the best out in them rather than alienating them, intervening at an early stage to try to prevent future tragedies from happening.

This announcement by Mr Cameron will only serve to reinforce downward spirals of failure rather than turning lives around. It is a very bleak outlook.

For all Cameron's talk about the Big Society, the government is failing poor children.

The only moral test we as a society should be applying is how we treat our most vulnerable members.

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