Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Family Values?

David Cameron spoke recently about the importance of the family. As well as a ‘family-friendly’ check for all new policies, he promised more money for initiatives including the Troubled Families programme. This supports families with multiple problems of health, truancy, crime, worklessness or other high-cost issues, through dedicated workers focusing on the whole family rather than a piecemeal approach from different agencies.

Expansion is based on the perceived success of the programme to date. As of July 2014, 97,202 families had been worked with, with 52,833 being “turned around” (a bold claim – defined as significant progress being made in at least one problem area).

However, there are issues here. One is that results from different Local Authorities vary enormously, which casts doubt on the reliability of their data. More significantly, almost all the assessment of progress is based on savings to public services (fewer police call-outs, reduced benefit payments and so forth), rather than the value of the programme to families themselves. Indeed, there is no indication that the families themselves have even been asked what they think of it. I’m not saying that there is no benefit to families, simply that I’ve seen no published evidence of it.

Which is ironic if families are the priority. Many would argue that government policies such as welfare reform have increased the strains on family relationships. If so, at best we may be tackling symptoms rather than causes.

The sad conclusion is that in reality the present government is less interested in families that in reducing public expenditure. I will only believe otherwise when government recognises – and prioritises – measures of happiness and well-being in our society above the ‘holy grail’ of economics and GDP.