I am delighted that my first visit as a Minister in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government was to see the work of the Troubled Families Programme in action in Liverpool on March 22nd.
I had already learned that the programme is making a real and credible impact on people’s lives and futures but reading about the evidence behind the programme is never a substitute for seeing first hand the real work and real lives behind the statistics.
During my visit, I met with key members of the Liverpool Troubled Families Team, who set out the sheer scale of the complexities that surround the families they work with and the ripple effect of their problems across the community and public services. They work in a whole family way which has required system level change across their city’s services. They talked me through how important it is to research and build on what works for their families in their local context.
But what I’ll remember most from the visit is the families who openly and honestly talked to me about their lives and how the programme has affected them. I sat down with two families - a single mum of 3 and couple with 7 children - and their keyworkers. Both of these families told me that the main thing that would make a difference to them was to get into work. One of the families described how demoralising being out of work felt and the other looked forward to the better life and confidence a return to work would bring them. It’s striking that not so long ago, conversations with families who were as complicated and complex as these would not have included talk about employment as this would have been considered unrealistic and unachievable. The Troubled Families Programme has ensured that work, and the transformative effects that it can bring to a whole family, is never off the table.
I learned from the families and their keyworkers that the personal approach taken by Troubled Families Employment Advisers (TFEAs) has been a breakthrough. Both families told me about how their TFEAs had come out to their homes, learned about their lives and come up with courses and other ideas that worked around their personal needs as well as solutions such as ‘permitted work’ (where families can work without a break in their benefits).
It was also clear that having a single person acting as a keyworker helps to build a vital level of trust for families - families with complex and overlapping problems such as mental ill health, a history of domestic violence, drug addiction, children not attending school, involvement in crime and at risk of eviction - who have often been mistrustful of services in the past. It was through the relationship built with the keyworker that they accepted the help they sorely needed. They told me that the support they have received has stabilised their lives and that they now feel able to make a sustainable step into employment. One parent told me that, after years of abuse, they were worried about the effect their bottled up emotions were having on their children. However, their keyworker encouraged them to open up and their children have followed this example so that they can talk through and resolve problems. I was really pleased to hear that this family’s eldest son was able to talk about not finding academic study easy but preferring to work with his hands, which has led to the quest for a bricklaying apprenticeship for him.
Some of what I learned from the families and workers in Liverpool is reflected in the programme’s annual report that was published yesterday (27th March 2018). The report details the hard work taking place across the country, shows a clear decrease in the number of children ‘in need’ as a result of the programme and outlines how it is driving innovation and changing the way Local Authorities work, bringing disparate care together to help those who need it most.
And so it’s a real privilege to be the Minister responsible for the Troubled Families Programme and I want to offer a big thank you to the Liverpool team and the families I met and to those reading this blog who are part of this life-changing work.
To read the full report, follow this link.
Minister for Local Government
Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government