Troubled families speech

David Cameron's speech on plans to improve services for troubled families.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon David Cameron

Since this coalition was formed, a lot of our energies have been directed at strengthening our economy - and rightly so.

But as I have always argued, we need a social recovery in Britain every bit as much as we need an economic one.

So while the government’s immediate duty is to deal with the budget deficit…

….my mission in politics - the thing I am really passionate about - is fixing the responsibility deficit.

That means building a stronger society, in which more people understand their obligations, and more take control over their own lives and actions.

For a long time I was criticised for talking about the broken society.

But I believe that it’s only by recognising the problem that we can fix what’s gone wrong.

And this summer we saw, beyond doubt, that something has gone profoundly wrong.

The riots were a wake-up call - not a freak incident but a boiling over of problems that had been simmering for years.

Talking about those problems is difficult territory for politicians.

You’re talking about blame, about good behaviour and bad behaviour, about morals.

And sometimes, you are singling out people whose actions have an impact on us all.

It can sound judgemental, even hypocritical.

As a result, too many politicians have shrunk from addressing these things and stuck their heads in the sand.

I refuse to do that.

As I said after the riots, I have a duty to speak clearly, frankly and truthfully about the problems in our society

…and an equal duty to do whatever it takes to fix them.

When I say we are all in it together, I mean it.

When those with a lot of power and money are seen to flout the normal rules it does send out damaging signals.

When one group in society seems to a life apart from the rest, that can a corrosive effect on others.

Some at the top - including MPs, journalists, bankers - have behaved appallingly, sometimes got away with it, and worse, have even been rewarded for that behaviour.

I get that.

That is why we have acted.

Bringing in transparency on MPs’ expenses.

Setting up a judge-led inquiry to get to the root of phone hacking.

Closing tax loopholes, chasing off shore money and taxing banks properly, with a new levy.

It is extraordinary that in the last year the average earnings of FTSE 100 directors rose by 49 per cent - even as many of these companies faced difficult times.  

We have got to address this, and we will.

But confronting problems at the top of our society doesn’t mean we should ignore what’s going on elsewhere.

That’s why today, I want to talk about troubled families.

Let me be clear what I mean by this phrase.

Officialdom might call them ‘families with multiple disadvantages’.

Some in the press might call them ‘neighbours from hell’.

Whatever you call them, we’ve known for years that a relatively small number of families are the source of a large proportion of the problems in society.

Drug addiction. Alcohol abuse. Crime. A culture of disruption and irresponsibility that cascades through generations.

We’ve always known that these families cost an extraordinary amount of money…

…but now we’ve come up the actual figures.

Last year the state spent an estimated £9 billion on just 120,000 families…

…that is around £75,000 per family.

Now there are some who say “yes, this is terrible, but this ‘Shameless’ culture is now a fact of modern British life, and there’s nothing we can do.”

They’re the same people who believe that poverty and failure, like death and taxes, will always be with us.

But I am an optimist about human nature.

I don’t believe in writing people off.

I don’t think people are pre-programmed to fail because of where they come from.

And I hate the idea that we should just expect to pay ever larger amounts in welfare to an ever larger chunk of society…

…and never expect the recipients to change their lives.

Our heart tells us we can’t just stand by while people live these lives and cause others so much misery.

Our head tells us we can’t afford to keep footing the monumental bills for social failure.

So we have got to take action to turn troubled families around.

The question is - what kind of action should we take?
To know that we need to know how we got here.

When you look through all the problems these families have…

…the kids leaving sink schools without qualifications…

…the parents never getting a job and choosing to live on the dole…

…the teenagers rampaging around the neighbourhood before turning to crime…

…you see a clear thread running through.

Think what it is to live like this.

If any group deserves that great phrase once used by David Davis…

…”the victims of state failure”…

…it is these families.

Let me be clear: everyone must take responsibility for their own actions.

But when the state fails, it can amplify the worst in people.

Yes, it’s the child’s responsibility to study hard at school…

…but if that school is a place of constant disruption and chaos they’re not going to get a fighting chance.

Yes, it’s the parents’ responsibility to look for work…

…but if the state is paying them more not to work, it becomes a rational choice to sit at home on the sofa.

Yes, it’s the teenager’s choice to smash up the bus stop and torment their neighbours…

…but if the criminal justice system doesn’t draw a firm enough line between right and wrong, they’re more likely to do wrong.

That’s why across all these vital areas - education, welfare, criminal justice - we’re undertaking radical reform.

Restoring real rigour into our classrooms.

Returning no-nonsense policing by cutting red tape.

And crucially, thanks to the excellent work of Iain Duncan Smith, we are re-linking effort and reward by making sure it pays more to be in work.

Better schools, safer streets and a welfare system that actually does what it’s meant to do - these are the state’s response to the need to build a stronger, more responsible society.

But when it comes to these troubled families, these reforms are not enough.

We’ve also got to change completely the way government interacts with them; the way the state intervenes in their lives.

To be fair to the last government, they did try to make a difference.

We can’t accuse them of under-doing the welfare and the social programmes. 

The problem, particularly in the past ten years, has actually been an excess of unthinking, impersonal welfare.

Put simply: tens of thousands of troubled families have been subjected to a sort of compassionate cruelty…

…swamped with bureaucracy, smothered in welfare yet never able to escape.

Take this true story of a family in the north-west of England - a mother, three teenage sons and a pregnant daughter.

In a single year they were the subject of a quite unbelievable amount of disconnected state activity.

The police were called out to their home 58 times, including five arrests and 109 hours of police work.

Ambulances were called five times.

There were repeated visits to A&E for things like self-harm.

Two injunctions were issued against tenants.

Neighbours kept complaining to the council about disruptive behaviour.

Two children were subject to different sets of close supervision by youth offending teams.

There was a summons for non-payment of council tax…and on and on it went.

All the different arms of government…

…the endless state schemes and interventions…

…dealing with individuals almost as if their families were invisible or irrelevant.

The educational psychologist sees the child - but doesn’t realise the mother’s depressed.

The police keep calling but don’t stop the crime.

The housing officials come to collect the rent - but no one pays.

And the Job Centre Plus tries to find work - but the teenager can’t read.

No one sees the whole family; no one grips the whole problem. The result is that social failure has become an industry.

One chief constable estimates it would be cheaper to station a full-time police officer in the homes of some families than constantly respond to the mayhem they cause.

Success has been judged by how much is spent on the consequences of failure…

…rather than whether people in troubled families begin productive lives of their own.

In short: the state keeps doing things to families…

…rather than working with them so they can change their lives.

It’s true that some family intervention projects - like the one I visited this morning in Smethwick - are already doing brilliantly.

Research we’re publishing today shows that anti-social behaviour among families involved in projects like these more than halved…

…and just as importantly trouble didn’t start all over again when the family left the project

But too often in recent years, the approach simply failed.

So where it was impersonal - dealing with families like bureaucratic units…

…we will be human: engaging with families as the messy, varied, living, breathing groups of different people they actually are.

Where it was disjointed - with a whole load of state agencies over-lapping…

…we will have a single point of focus on the family: a single port of call and a single face to know.

And where it was essentially top-down and patronising - keeping people sealed in their circumstances with a weekly welfare cheque and rock-bottom expectations…

…we will be empowering…

…not making excuses for anyone, but supporting these families to take control of their own lives.

The message is this: “we are not coming in to rescue you - you need to rescue yourselves, but we will support you every step of the way.”

Now let me tell you what this means in practical terms.

We need to provide leadership at the top, action in local authorities and results on the ground.

At the top I have appointed Louise Casey - who has great experience in this area - to lead the Troubled Families Unit in Eric Pickles’ department, and co-ordinate this change of

Louise is leading the nationwide task of getting to grips with the number of troubled families - and working out where they are.

We’re not prescribing a single response.

But we are demanding results from councils in return for support.

For many of the most troubled families, there will be a family worker - a single point of contact for the first time for particular families - working out what the family needs, where the
waste is and lining up the right services at the right time.

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 -like getting the kids to school on time, properly fed - that are the building blocks of an orderly home and a responsible life.

These things don’t always cost a lot but they make all the difference.

And they will get on top of the services, sorting out - and sometimes fending off - the 28 or more different state services that can come calling at the door.

Not a string of well-meaning, disconnected officials who end up treating the symptoms and not the causes.

But a clear hard-headed recognition of how the family is going wrong - and what the family members themselves can do to take responsibility.

Where it’s been tried, this approach can work wonders.

Take the work of Emma Harrison, who has given us all inspiration in the last 12 months.

She has shown that high aspirations for families is important - and that we shouldn’t write them off as unreachable or un-teachable.

She has real ambition for these families and I know we can count on her to help drive this campaign forward in the future with us.

In Smethwick, too, you can see just what persistent and intensive work can achieve. 

The Family Intervention Project worked with one family whose criminality and anti-social behaviour had spiralled out of control. 

Police visits to their home were happening almost every day - to follow up on reports of anti-social behaviour, to arrest one of the children or to check up that curfews were working.

The story of the misery that one family can caused one small area is all too familiar.  

The breakthrough came when the mother admitted to the housing officer that she was struggling to cope at home.

The Family Intervention Project gave the family a key worker, who over the next 9 months helped the family transform its behaviour.

The change is lasting too - there are now no calls to the police, the teenage children are engaging with school, the younger children are more settled. 

I know there will be those who say ‘this is nannying’ or ‘this is none of your business’ or ‘this is not something the government should be concerned with at a time like this’.

I say that is wrong.

I say that I am a practical person and this is a practical government.

I don’t think the state should just wade into people’s lives regardless…

…but troubled families are already pulled and prodded and poked a dozen times a week by government.

Indeed one of the reasons for their dysfunction is their hatred of ‘the system’ which they experience as faceless, disjointed and intrusive.

They cost government billions of pounds a year; and only government has the power - because incentives are necessary as part of the intervention - to sort them out.

So we are going to do just that.

We can only act if we know where troubled families live.

Up to now we’ve talked in terms broad numbers - 120,000 troubled families across the country.

Today we are announcing, council by council, our estimate from data, mapping where these families are.

To give you an idea of the scale of the problem, there are an estimated 4,500 of these families in Birmingham, 2,500 in Manchester, and 1,115 here in Sandwell.

But setting out the data is just the start.

We need to move quickly from broad estimates to actual names and addresses.

By February we want local authorities to have identified who the troubled families are, where they live and what services they use.

The next step will be to get in there and start working with families.

So today I can announce the financial firepower we’re putting behind this task.

We are committing £448 million to turning around the lives of 120,000 troubled families by the end of this Parliament.

This money has got to do its job.

Our offer to councils is that we will fund 40% of the cost if they match this with 60%.

And crucially this payment depends on results.

Simple tests such as…

…are the children going to school?

… how many people have they got back into work?

…have they stopped - and I mean completely stopped - anti-social behaviour?

…how many crimes have been prevented?

This will take a concerted effort from all corners of Government. 

I’m grateful to Eric Pickles for leading the way…

…and to Ken Clarke, Michael Gove, Andrew Lansley, Theresa May and Iain Duncan Smith…

…for contributing not just the time to make this work but hard cash from their budgets.

Together this shows the government’s utter determination to get to grips with this…

…to refute the defeatism that says you can’t change anything…

…to make a real difference in homes and neighbourhoods all over the country.

Let me be clear.

Government - neither central nor local - can do this alone.

We need social action, as well as state action.

The full power, inventiveness and passion of the voluntary sector is required too.

The Big Society approach is required here as elsewhere.

And, of course, there is something else too.

We’re talking about behaviour - the behaviour of individuals, the failures of families ….. and the consequences of that behaviour for society.

You can’t fully address that without a debate about the codes of behaviour people choose to live by.

I have said this many times, but I will say it again.  We will not fix these problems without a revolution in responsibility ….. a recognition that we need in our country a massive step
change in accepting personal responsibility, parental responsibility, and social and civic responsibility too.

I know these are difficult challenges for any government.

They won’t be fixed just by a bit more money or a new scheme…

…or - dare I say it - another Prime Ministerial speech.

This immense task will take new ways of thinking, committed local action, flexibility and perseverance.

But I know too that it’s a task we can’t shirk.

People in troubled families aren’t worthless or pre-programmed to fail.

I won’t allow them to be written off.

So we must get out there, help them their lives around and heal the scars of the broken society.

Published 15 December 2011