But who are these "troubled families", ,and what are we supposed to blame them for? I explained exactly how the government came up with the 120,000 number in a blog (also in the Independent) back in February, and the Independent helpfully summarises:
Under government criteria, a troubled family is one that meets five out of seven criteria: having a low income, no one in the family who is working, poor housing, parents who have no qualifications, where the mother has a mental health problem, one parent has a long-standing illness or disability, and where the family is unable to afford basics, including food and clothes.
What instantly leaps out from this list? It is that none of these criteria, in themselves, have anything at all to do with disruption, irresponsibility, or crime. Drug addiction and alcohol abuse are also absent. A family which meets 5 of these criteria is certainly disadvantaged. Almost certainly poor. But a source of wider social problems? Maybe, but maybe not - and certainly not as a direct consequence. In other words, the "troubled families" in the Prime Minister's speech are not necessarily "neighbours from hell" at all. They are poor.
"The Prime Minister has confirmed his intention to ensure that 120,000 troubled families are ‘turned around’ by the end of this Parliament. These families are characterised by there being no adult in the family working, children not being in school and family members being involved in crime and anti-social behaviour."
- What is the government estimate of the number of families characterised by "there being no adult in the family working, children not being in school and family members being involved in crime and anti-social behaviour." Is it 120,000? Or some other number?
- In either case what is the source, given the lack of a national data set, which the guidance itself identifies?
Even leaving aside the morality of using the language of "stigmatising" with respect to a set of families many of whom neither deserve nor will benefit from any such thing, this is a terrible way to make policy. Using data - and a completely arbitrary national target number - that everyone knows are simply wrong, solely because it would be embarrassing to admit a mistake, will make the programme less effective and risks wasting public money. Not only does it reflect badly on Ministers, it also does no credit to the senior civil servants who allow the publication of information which - at the most charitable - appears to reflect a complete lack of understanding of the relevant data. This is a clear case for the National Audit Office.