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Gingerbread queries ‘muddled thinking’ behind Troubled Families programme

Focus of next phase will be on parental conflict and worklessness

The government has announced further funding for the Troubled Families programme, a targeted family intervention programme run by local authorities, originally launched in 2012. The focus of the new phase will be on tackling parental conflict and worklessness. For the first annual report in relation to the Programme, click here.

The programme has been criticised by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research for failing to demonstrate "any significant or systematic impact".

While Gingerbread welcomes the promise of better relationship support across family types, it questions the emphasis on 'worklessness' as an overriding obstacle to financial stability. While two-thirds of single parents work, the risk of working single parent families being in poverty sharply increased over the last year, emphasising that employment alone is not a solution to improving life chances. The policy paper, the charity says, does not address structural obstacles facing single parents out of work, such as lack of access to childcare, flexible work and training.

Gingerbread notes that the announcement comes in the same week that new reforms to the welfare system are being rolled out, which will drastically reduce the level of financial support available to single parent families and other vulnerable groups. Changes under universal credit will compound welfare cuts from last year that, it says, hit working single parents hardest.

Rosie Ferguson, chief executive of Gingerbread, commented:

"The government's announcement of new funding for supporting so-called "troubled" families is liable to be seen as a cynical distraction dressed up as a laudable intervention. While there is no proof that the programme has had any positive impact on those it purports to help, there is a wealth of evidence that the government's new welfare reforms will slash support from those who need it the most. There would be a better outcome for everyone – including the tax-payer – if the government shelved its muddled thinking on "troubled" families, and reversed its brutal targeting of the most vulnerable families too."

Jane Robey, CEO of National Family Mediation, said:

"We welcome the commitments to help reduce parental conflict, and are especially pleased by the plans to expand the role and improve the services to families provided by JobCentre Plus. 

"As England and Wales' largest provider of family mediation we look forward to further developing our relationship with the DWP in general, and with JobCentre Plus in particular. 

"We have long known that divorce and separation create many of the problems the DWP has identified in its new paper. Indeed worklessness is a frequent side effect of relationship breakdown and we feel that joining up the relevant services offers the DWP an opportunity to improve its own outcomes across a number of government departments including increasing the transfer of money through child maintenance so that it rightly reaches those who need it."

The House of Commons Library has published a briefing which looks at the design, policy debate, outcomes and results of the Troubled Families programme. For the briefing, click here.

6/4/17 (supplemented 9/4/17)