Troubled Families Programme changes focus to worklessness

Helping workless families

Last week (4 April 2017), the Department of Work and Pensions set out a new direction for the next phase of the (much criticised) Troubled Families programme.

Improving lives: helping workless families is couched in the already familiar language of Theresa May’s “fairer Britain” and “a country that works for everyone.”

The DWP’s analysis claims that joblessness is often a key factor making people “considerably more likely to experience problems with their relationships, have poor mental health and be in problem debt”.

It includes figures claiming 300,000 workless families are potentially affected by conflict between parents. The department also said that children did better if they had a “close, supportive relationship with their father”, but said only half of children in separated families saw their non-resident parent every fortnight or more.

The impact on children of parental worklessness

The report argues that worklessness damages lives:

Not only does it reduce family income, it can also damage families’ resilience, health and stability, and thus undermine child development. This is because many workless families are held back by disadvantages such as problem debt, drug and alcohol dependency, and by homelessness. Many suffer from parental conflict and poor mental health which can have a long-term impact on children’s development. Where problems such as these combine and fuel each other, families edge further and further away from the benefits of work, and children face a greater and greater prospect of repeating the poor outcomes of their parents.

The DWP assemble a set of particularly damning statistics on the outcomes of children whose parents are workless:

  • One in eight children live in workless families
  • Children in workless families are almost twice as likely to fail at all stages of their education
  • Workless parents are more likely to experience relationship distress
  • 63% of alcohol dependent parents and 80% opiate dependent parents were workless in the 28 days before accessing treatment
  • 660,000 children live in households in persistent debt
  • 60,000 households with dependent children live in temporary accommodation

Next steps

The report highlights four key next steps for action; promising that the DWP will:

  1. Set out the next phase of the Government’s Troubled Families Programme so that it has an even greater emphasis on helping people back into work and tackling the disadvantages associated with worklessness. We will do this by building on the strengths of the current programme – its focus on supporting the whole family by understanding how issues interconnect; and its role in driving local service reform.
  2. Reduce parental conflict through the launch of an innovative new programme to support evidence-based interventions delivered by specialist organisations at a local level – saving money and transforming lives by giving parents, whether together or separated, the right help before things get worse.
  3. Set new expectations for Jobcentre Plus to identify people with complex needs at the right time, to strengthen partnership working with local authorities, wider public services, and the voluntary sector, to share information more effectively between partners and work with local strategic boards to more efficiently address claimants’ needs.
  4. Tackle dependency by implementing recommendations made by Dame Carol Black’s review of employment and drug and alcohol dependency. We will bring forward a trial of the Individual and Placement Support approach to help those dependent on drugs and alcohol back into employment, build a network of peer mentors to help those dependent on drugs and alcohol.

Indicators

The report unsurprisingly skirts round the issue of payment by results (many commentators criticised the design of the Troubled Families payment mechanism as deeply flawed); saying only that the DWP will:

Review the programme’s payment model to ensure that we have the incentives right to drive long-term sustainable improvements in services and for families.

The report does, though, publish nine national indicators to track the programme’s progress.

There are six six parental indicator areas with supporting measures to track worklessness and the associated disadvantages:

There are three outcome indicator areas with supporting measures for children and young people

To my eye, this is a very demanding set of indicators and it will be interested to see whether payments are linked to their achievement.

 

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