“… a world that is almost unrecognisable…”

On Thursday of last week, there was a ‘motion to take note’ of women facing homelessness, domestic violence and social exclusion in the House of Lords. As a result of this notice, and it’s reassuring to know that the second chamber have noticed, the Troubled Families Programme (TFP) got some interesting coverage.

Lord Farmer, the Treasurer of the Conservative party, making his maiden speech said that ‘Domestic violence is an issue in the vast majority of cases’ of ‘troubled families’. He ended his speech by stating that ‘it is my intention to contribute to the work of this House, and especially in these vital areas of social policy’. Perhaps he could ensure he gets his facts right before he contributes again as the figures released by DCLG recently suggest that Domestic Violence, as assessed/estimated by Key Workers working with ‘troubled families’, affected around 30% of families.  So, in complete contradiction to what Lord Farmer said, the vast majority of families involved in the TFP were NOT experiencing Domestic Violence, according to the only ‘statistics’ that have been published.

Baroness Armstrong (Labour) attempted to claim credit for laying the foundations of the TFP arguing that ‘If noble Lords read the reports from Louise Casey around troubled families—much of that work, although it is never acknowledged, grew out of work that I was doing as Minister for Social Exclusion and that we did in the respect programme in the previous Government’.

Baroness Healy (Labour) highlighted a report by St. Mungo’s called Rebuilding Shattered Lives which called on government to ensure that the TFP was addressing the needs of girls at risk of homelessness.

But perhaps the most interesting remarks were by Baroness Grender of the Lib Dems. She said:

‘… anyone who has seen someone grow up under the shadow of domestic violence will know that those scars run very deep. That is why the Troubled Families project led by Louise Casey has such significance, trying to capture and work with those children and families, ensuring that families learn those small steps—getting up and being clean, fed and off to school or work each day—which are all part of re-engaging with society. The Government’s introduction of the project and welcome extension of the scheme to an additional 400,000 of the most problematic families will, I believe, be looked back on one day as a turning point for those who are currently in a world that is almost unrecognisable. The recent news that 70,000 families’ lives have already been turned around is something that we should watch and review with interest’ (emphases added).

The suggestion that ‘troubled families’ are somehow ‘cut-off’ from the rest of society, living in ‘a world that is almost unrecognisable’ and needing to take ‘small steps’ to ‘re-engage’ is one that is not supported by any available evidence, conveniently ignoring that most children in ‘troubled families’ attend school and many of the families are already in work. It is also noteworthy for other reasons, coming as it does from a peer who recently claimed that being a member of the House of Lords  was ‘unaffordable’ for ordinary people such as hairdressers and bus drivers, because the daily tax-free allowance of £300 per day leaves people reliant on a partner’s income. The Daily Mail helpfully pointed out that this allowance is equivalent to a pre-tax annual salary of around £60,000. Who needs to re-engage with society now?

Dan Silver recently wrote an excellent blog arguing that, instead of making more ‘poverty porn’, television cameras should be trained on those individuals and families that are located at the top of our society. If anyone is inhabiting a world that is unrecognisable, it is people like Baroness Grender where the equivalent of £60,000 leaves you feeling hard done by….

The discussion ended with Baroness King, who introduced the motion, highlighting the contribution that Lord Farmer (see above) made to the debate. She thanked him and said ‘The insight and understanding he brought to the debate were breathtaking’. Words fail me….


**** Baroness Grender’s remarks reminded me of some responses to Benefits Street where spatial imagery such as ‘twilight worlds’ and a ‘second Britain’ was used to ‘other’ people living in poverty. I wrote about this with Tom Slater and you can find the article here. The ‘being clean’ bit of her speech reminded me of George Orwell and this****