Posts Tagged 'Social Policy'

The Troubled Families Programme: changing everything, yet changing nothing


Troublemakers FC

‘Troublemakers’ is out now

Stephen Crossley, author of Troublemakers: The construction of ‘troubled families’ as a social problem – out today – examines the most recent Troubled Families Programme Outcomes report, which published last week.


The Evolution of the Trouble Families Programme

The Troubled Families Programme (TFP), originally tasked with ‘turning around’ the lives of 120,000 ‘troubled families’ in a single term of parliament has evolved into a different type of programme since its inception, albeit one with many enduring features. The expanded criteria for the second phase of the TFP shifted from allegedly criminal, anti-social and ‘workless’ families, to include those experiencing troubles such as domestic violence and health issues.

The ‘next phase’ of the programme, announced in April 2017, sought to bring sharper focus to the work of the TFP by emphasising the need to support ‘workless’ families into employment. The criteria for identifying and prioritising families for the programme changed, the outcomes expected by the programme also shifted, but some core, sometimes unintentional, features of the programme remain, including the labelling of disadvantaged families as ‘troubled’.


Disproving the ‘underclass’ theory

The most recent findings, published on 27th March, highlight some continuities with previous ‘troubled families’ publications.

“Fewer than 10% of ‘troubled families’ were involved with one or more anti-social behaviour incidents in the twelve months prior to entering the programme”

By way of example, we learn from the latest Outcomes report that:

  • Fewer than 10% of ‘troubled families’ were involved with one or more anti-social behaviour incidents in the twelve months prior to entering the programme (p24);
  • Only one in three ‘troubled families’ are classed as ‘workless’ (p20);
  • Fewer than 2% of ‘troubled families’ had ever been evicted (p21);
  • and just 2.8% of children in ‘troubled families’ had a caution in the 12 months prior to entering the programme.

The findings thus mirror two sets of evaluation data from the first phase of the programme (Final report on the family monitoring data and An interim report showing family monitoring data), and demonstrate that the stigmatising feckless, workshy, ‘neighbours from hell’ imagery associated with ‘troubled families’ courtesy of powerful individuals such as David Cameron, Eric Pickles and Louise Casey, is entirely inappropriate. Essentially, the official evaluation of the TFP is the latest in a long line of research that helps to disprove the longstanding theory of an ‘underclass’.


Changing nothing

The impact of the programme also continues to look problematic, considering this was a flagship social policy that was originally intended to ‘turn around’ the lives of ‘troubled families’ and change the way that the government intervened in their lives.

The impact study of the first phase of the programme was ‘unable to find consistent evidence’ that the programme ‘had any significant or systematic impact’ (p20). Since the renewed focus on tackling ‘worklessness’ was announced in April 2017, 104,809 families were worked with on the programme. Of these, just 4,807 families entered ‘continuous employment’ in the last year. In just under three years, not a single ‘troubled family’ in Newham (out of 2858 on the programme) has met the ‘continuous employment’ criteria according to the latest figures. And yet, over a slightly longer period, over 1000 families met this criteria in Liverpool. The difference between such figures (and there are plenty of other inconsistencies) is not explained.

The main finding in the Outcomes report is that a significantly smaller proportion of children were classed as children in need (a 3.9 percentage point difference, a statistically significant difference) after 6-12 months of work under the TFP, than similar families in a matched comparison groups who were not on the programme over a similar period. This improvement is to be welcomed, but given the resources allegedly attached to the TFP, the intensive, transformative approach, and the allegedly failing approach of other services, it hardly represents conclusive evidence that the family intervention model is worth the effort.



The continuing focus on ‘families’ – either ‘troubled’ or ‘workless’ – and on the family intervention approach continues to deflect attention away from the quantity and quality of jobs on offer, and their suitability or otherwise for carers of young children and/or disabled or vulnerable adults. The potential consequences of poor, or insecure, or sporadic work on disadvantaged families’ lives remained undiscussed. Poor quality, poorly paid, irregular work, often at unsociable hours in the early morning or late at night, accompanied by potential or changes to benefits entitlements, does not always lead to less parental conflict, more support for ‘children in need’, or a greater, more sustainable income. The pejorative term ‘workless’ ignores the amount of domestic and caring work that takes place within ‘troubled families’, many of whom have young children and/or family members with health issues or disabilities.

“The transformation of local services that the government claims is taking place under the TFP appears to be driven more by ideology than evidence.”


Ideology not evidence

Despite the evidence that suggests a lack of impact in many areas, there also remains claims of the allegedly transformative aims of the TFP. As each phase of the programme has been announced, and as its profile and importance has dropped, there has been an increase in the extent to which the programme claims to be transforming and re-shaping local services. The most recent annual report claims that the programme ‘drives service reform’, ‘drives reduction in social care demand’ and ‘promotes social justice’. Problematic and/or slow progress of many families on the programme suggests that the family intervention approach might not be worth ‘rolling out’ and ‘mainstreaming’. The transformation of local services that the government claims is taking place under the TFP appears to be driven more by ideology than evidence.


Troublemakers FCTroublemakers by Stephen Crossley is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £19.99.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Co-creating impact: why universities and communities should work together

Kate Pahl and Keri Facer, authors of Valuing interdisciplinary collaborative research, discuss the value of co-production and collaboration between academic researchers and community projects. 

Valuing Interdisciplinary Collaborative Research will be launched at the Co-Creating Cities & Communities Summer Event today in Bristol #ahrcconnect #citiesandcoms2017 @ahrcconnect

Kate Pahl

Keri Facer

“Increasingly, universities are being asked to work with communities in more inclusive, collaborative and ethical ways, but their processes and practices are often overlooked, particularly within the arts and humanities.

University ways of knowing and doing are only one part of research and new conceptual tools are needed to make sense of this. This makes for a new and exciting research landscape.

“Impact isn’t just about academics doing brilliant, original research… impact is co-created.”

The ‘impact’ agenda needs to shift to recognise the nature of ‘co-produced impact’. That is, impact isn’t just about academics doing brilliant, original research which is written up in articles and then re-produced in different forms to a grateful community which draws on this research.

Instead, impact is co-created. People have ideas, in communities and in universities and they work on these together, bringing different knowledges and practices to those questions and ideas. This then produces a different kind of knowledge – richer, more diverse, more carefully located in real and everyday contexts and more relevant.

Connected Communities

The Connected Communities (CC) programme, headed by the AHRC cross-research council, has funded over 300 projects, worked with over 500 collaborating organisations and over 700 academics from universities across the UK, on topics ranging from festivals to community food, from everyday creativity to care homes, from hyper-local journalism to community energy.

‘Valuing Collaborative Interdisciplinary Research’ (Policy Press 2017), the latest volume in the Connected Communities book series, brings together a number of diverse and rich research projects that range from community evaluation, to how community values play out in collaborative research, how decisions on heritage should be made, and on what artists do when they work with academics and communities together with the role of performance in highlighting community concerns.

Many different people contributed to the projects ranging from people from the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Science Museum, to people working within communities as well as within universities.


Some themes which emerge in the book include translation, co-production, dialogic modes of research and tacit and embodied knowledge. A key theme is the nature of knowledge and its production practices . Ways of capturing everyday knowledge, through stories, maps, material objects, conversations and performances, are discussed and considered.

In the book we attempt to map this new world out. We offer a set of helpful ideas and ways forward to articulate what is needed to do this sort of work. We argue that projects like this need to include an element of productive divergence.

“Perhaps if this kind of research was funded more often, surprises like the recent election result wouldn’t have come as so much of a shock.”

The projects are often grounded in the world materially and objects play a strong part. They often involve mess, uncertainty, complexity and a focus on practice and involve translating across different fields, as well as stories as a mode of exchange. Many of the projects draw on tacit and embodied learning that were informed by arts methodologies as well as ideas from sensory and phenomenological perspectives.

Perhaps if this kind of research was funded more often, surprises like the recent election result wouldn’t have come as so much of a shock. Universities need to become more attuned to the voices of communities, to their accounts of what is important and necessary to research. The Connected Communities programme and this book make a start in redressing the balance.


Valuing interdisciplinary collaborative research edited by Keri Facer and Kate Pahl is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for £19.99.

Find out more about impact, influence and engagement at Policy Press here.

Policy Press newsletter subscribers receive a 35% discount – sign up here.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

SPA Conference Review

Image of blog authorA review of the 2012 Social Policy Association conference
By Lee Gregory, PhD Candidate Cardiff School of Social Sciences

When asked to review the recent SPA conference for the Policy Press blog I have to admit it raised some concern. How do you review something so large and diverse when you really get to see so little of everything that is going on? But I soon pulled out a couple of overarching themes from the conference, which perhaps make this year stand out from previous years.

First, of course, this year’s SPA was a joint event. Working in collaboration with the East Asian Social Policy research network (EASP) the conference brought together a wide range of perspectives, ideas and research. This was reflected not only in the range of papers on offer to delegates but also in the plenary sessions which drew out some comparative discussions between East Asia and the UK in relation to inequalities: a topic of renewed concern during a time of “austerity”. The conference ended with the ambition of future collaboration, on the basis of a joint agreement signed by the SPA and EASP, to continue working together.

The second overarching issue was the use of twitter. Whilst twitter may have been in use during previous SPA conferences, this year conference had an official hashtag #socpol2012 (for the non-tweeting readers, this is a way to label a post on twitter so posts can be collected together). The use of twitter actually addresses, to some extent, the concern that passed through my mind when first asked to write this blog piece. By following the hashtag I was able to read the key points coming out of presentations and discussions in paper sessions I couldn’t attend. Tweeting during conference also allowed a new platform for sharing ideas. Not only accessible to the public but also providing a digital record offering small insights into the conference.

Both of these developments are refreshing and encouraging. Refreshing because they provide new opportunities to connect with other academics (and the wider public), to share ideas and thinking. Encouraging, because they show a concern within the SPA to look beyond the conference to wider audiences.

One theme repeated from last year was the need to campaign and seek change not just to defend the social sciences but to challenge the ideas and policies being put forward by the Coalition Government (although I would urge a need to consider the devolved context in which policy debates now take place, I am, after all, currently based in a Welsh institution). Seeking collaboration with other organisations reminds us of the global contexts in which these issues take place, and twitter gives us a local means of engaging debate and change.

Lee Gregory, PhD Candidate Cardiff School of Social Sciences

Celebrating the British Welfare State?

The UK has recently looked back over the last sixty years in the context of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. At The Policy Press we have been thinking about what the last sixty years have really meant for Britain, and would love to know your thoughts – by leaving a comment on this blog, emailing or on Twitter @policypress.

Here, author Paul Spicker (How Social Security Works, Social Policy) takes a look at what has happened to the British Welfare State over this time:

The British Welfare State was intended to be an ideal. Asa Briggs identified three key elements by which it would act:

“First by guaranteeing individuals and families a minimum income irrespective of the market value of their work, or their property. Second by narrowing the extent of insecurity by enabling individuals and families to meet certain “social contingencies” (for example sickness, old age and unemployment) which lead otherwise to individual or family crisis, and third, by ensuring that all citizens without distinction of status or class are offered the best standards available in relation to a certain agreed range of social services.”  (Briggs A., ‘The welfare state in historical perspective’, European Journal of Sociology, 1961, 2, pp.221-258)

Although he refers three times to “individuals” and “families”, the Welfare State was conceived in collectivist terms. It depended on the idea that some things are done better through collective action, that government needed to serve the public, that it should try to ensure basic universal standards, and that it should do things as best it could.

The assault on the Welfare State by the New Right, and the shift in politics that has taken place since, challenged the conceptual foundation of the Welfare State, not just its practice. The market economy is now taken as the norm. The Treasury’s Green Book advises:

“Before any possible action by government is contemplated, it is important to identify a clear need which it is in the national interest for government to address. Accordingly, a statement of the rationale for intervention should be developed. This underlying rationale is usually founded either in market failure or where there are clear government distributional objectives that need to be met. Market failure refers to where the market has not and cannot of itself be expected to deliver an efficient outcome; the intervention that is contemplated will seek to redress this. Distributional objectives are self-explanatory and are based on equity considerations.”  (HM Treasury, n.d., Green Book, at

It appears, then, that it is not good enough for government to justify their actions because they would benefit people, because they protect people’s rights, because the government has a moral commitment – or even because it has been elected to address an issue. We have lost sight of the fundamental principle that government is there to do things for people.

Paul Spicker.

Paul Spicker’s book How Social Security Works is available for only £15 until the end of June only. Order your copy here.

Hedgehogs, Foxes and Sociologists*

Dr. Katherine Smith                        Dr. Nasar Meer


Dr. Nasar Meer and Dr. Katherine Smith write:

The late Isaiah Berlin once distinguished between two types of political animal: the first was a prickly hedgehog (who views the world through the lens of a single defining idea), and the other a cunning fox (for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea).  Sociologists have traditionally aspired to be neither. Motivated less by ‘normative’ positions and arguments, it is with some bemusement that many of us have encountered Aditya Chakrabortty’s recent admonishments.

Like Bill Jordan (see previous blog post), we agree that the study of economics has been found wanting, and that Chakrabortty certainly catches something of a deeper conversation amongst academics, with the important proviso that Chakrabortty’s piece on occasion conflates those who study markets with those who feverishly endorse them. True, economics has in places been stripped of its critical and holist features, but there are political economists who continue, often persuasively, to take a more direct route (see for example David Harvey’s RSA lecture on the financial crisis). We do not wish to intrude on private grief however and so will leave economists to speak for themselves and focus instead on those who have disappointed Chakrabortty most.

A prevailing strand of sociological inquiry in Britain has long sought to make our social world more knowable through a methodology of verstehen; a term employed by the German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920).  While this can incorporate quantitative and comparative perspectives, Weber’s task was to ‘empathetically understand’ the ways in which the actions of people and groups in society are inscribed with ‘meaning’.  Through the study of this meaning, he maintained, we could observe intentional or unintentional social outcomes, as shown in his study of early capitalism in Northern Europe, and specifically the role of a Calvinist-Protestant work ethic in encouraging capital accumulation and investment.

Much has changed in sociology, and we have past many ‘post-’s, but these approaches remain familiar to students and teachers of the discipline whose research spans the seemingly banal to the most contested; the most intimate to the most innocuous topics. That is to say that there is perhaps a consensus that whatever else sociological inquiry resembles, it must necessarily be motivated by a concern with something greater than political debate. It is here that Chakrabortty’s lament that a ‘Focauladian lens’ or studying ‘the holistic massage industry’ is a distraction from what really matters comes up short; not least because he repeats the error he is critiquing by giving primacy to all that is seemingly ‘economic’. Another way of putting this is to say that economics is not the only sphere of the social world and, to reverse the problem, it is short-sighted to uncouple economics from the study of culture, gender, ethnicity, and so forth, and so miss the intersectionalities of social phenomena.

This means it is not for sociologists to ‘defeat’ economists but to engage in sociologically valid inquiry that incorporates more than economics.  This does not mean ignoring the economic crisis rather to take it in the round. Hence the core theme of the 2010 British Sociological Conference (BSA) was ‘Inequalities and Social Justice’, while ‘Sociology in the Age of Austerity’ was the core theme for our 2012 meeting. Each of these showcased important arguments that are yet to find their way into press, partly because the rigours of peer-review can entail a lag of around eighteen months between article submission and publication (we have elsewhere discussed what the implications of increased auditing of scholarship might entail)  Nonetheless, there is a diverse range of sociological scholarship on the economic crisis that offers more than the sum of its parts and so deals with the big questions too

In many ways Chakrabortty’s concern strikes at the heart of what has been debated widely – indeed on the pages of the journals he says ignore the economic crisis – as Public Sociology.  An important point here is that there is more than one ‘public’.  So when sociologists engage in the mass media, as is easily observed in the mediatised letters and campaigns against the NHS and Social Care Bill or the hike in tuition fees, Michael Gove’s ‘free’ schools, or the Government’s targeting of the most vulnerable, this is just one kind of public.  Sociologists also engage with other ‘publics’, many of which may be less visible to journalists such as local communities, prisons, virtual communities, and students (of various kinds, both inside and outside universities), as well as conventional academic publics. These too are sociological terrains of political economy.

It may be easy for Chakrabortty to dismiss a few (purposively selected) niche research topics as irrelevant but it is equally important to ensure that those with a public voice do not presume to know what is, and what is not, of interest to different kinds of publics. In the context of the economic crisis and its fall out, debates that take place between broadsheet commentators, academics and policymakers are just one kind of conversation (and, if we are honest, a rather elite and limited kind).

*Dr. Nasar Meer is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Northumbria University, and author of The impact of European Equality Directives upon British Anti-Discrimination Legislation, Policy & Politics, 38(2). Dr. Katherine Smith is a Lecturer in the Global Public Health Unit at Edinburgh University

The Conservatives and the future of social welfare

Under David Cameron’s leadership, prior to the 2010 general election the Conservatives sought to present a more ‘compassionate’ or ‘progressive’ face than under his immediate predecessors, with more socially liberal and inclusive rhetoric, and an emphasis upon the Party being more socially representative in its membership and particularly within parliament.

Since the election however, despite the necessity of forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, arguably the position of the Conservatives (and the government as a whole) has hardened significantly, not only with regard to reducing the deficit, but also across whole swathes of social policy. The government’s changes to social security, reforms of the NHS, changes to education, and proposals for ‘localism’, all have major implications for the ways in which services are delivered and experienced by individuals, and these are in addition to the likely impacts of substantial cuts in public expenditure.

Should the Coalition government persist until 2014 it seems probable that the shape of welfare services will be considerably different from now, with a smaller role for the state and a larger role for the private sector and potentially for social enterprises and the voluntary and community sector, although Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ remains amorphous, and its future uncertain. It is important, therefore, that we seek to understand what the provision of social policy could and should look like in the future.

Hugh Bochel, author of The Conservative Party and social policy, publishing this month

Choice moves up the public agenda

It’s encouraging to see that ideas around choice are creeping up the public agenda. Renata Salecl’s new book Choice in Profile’s big ideas series focuses on the tendency of increasing choice to create anxieties & so contribute to the air of anxiety that pervades modern (or is it post modern?) culture. This is not a view I would dissent from, though I would want to sugest that reactions to increased choice vary markedly between individuals, & probably over time for the same individual.
Meantime the introduction of more choice in public services, as against an emphasis on provision, seems to be emerging as one of the few issues separating the Milliband brothers in their pursuit of the Labour party leadership, with David, the true heir to Blair, being in favour of more choice as progressive & a worthwhile reform.
Michael Clarke, author of Challenging choices

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