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UK riots: who are these 120,000 troubled families?

Posted on 25 August 2011 .
Tags: Broken Britain, FACS, Families and Children Study, Social Exclusion Task Force

In the aftermath of last week's riots David Cameron has publicly renewed his commitment to repairing 'Broken Britain' and promised to turn around the lives of 120,000 of the ’most troubled‘ families. But who are these families and where does the 120,000 figure come from? I can shed some light on this, having been involved in the research that identified these families when I was seconded to the Social Exclusion Task Force (SETF) a few years ago. SETF was based in the Cabinet Office, and was tasked with championing the needs of the most disadvantaged members of society, with a particular focus on those with multiple problems.

The research we carried out then, using data from the Families and Children Study (FACS), identified the types of problems that families faced - low income, unemployment, poor quality housing, being materially deprived, poor physical and mental health, and no qualifications. We then looked to see which families had a number of these problems and found that 2% (about 120,000 families) had 5 or more. Clearly these are families who find it very challenging to live in a way that many of us take for granted.

Are these the families that house the kind of young people involved in last week's riots? Unfortunately we don’t have data to test such a hypothesis. However, we do know from this research that children aged 11-15 who grow up in multiply-disadvantaged families are more likely to have multiple problems themselves - and by problems I mean things like not doing well in core subjects at school, being suspended or even excluded from school, and running away from home. However, it's important to point out that not all children in multiply-disadvantaged families have these problems. For example, 10% of 11-15 years olds from these families had been in trouble with the police – so 90% had not (this compares to 1% of 11-15 year olds who had been in trouble with the police from families with none of the aforementioned disadvantages).

Rightly or wrongly, David Cameron has put the ‘most troubled’ families at the centre of his response to what happened last week. One way the Government hopes to do this is through Intensive Intervention Projects, which we’re evaluating on behalf of the Department for Education. These projects assign key workers to families who face a combination of problems. They reflect a growing awareness that disadvantaged families face complex, multi-dimensional problems that need to be tackled holistically. We’ve also just started work on developing a new multi-dimensional measure of poverty with Demos, which will better reflect the lived experiences of people in poverty. I’ll be blogging about that project next week.

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