Pickles and ‘Troubled Families’

An article that appeared in the Guardian on Monday has been playing on my mind for a couple of days. Eric Pickles the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (who incidentally seems dead set on destroying both) wants to tackle what he calls ‘troubled families’ or more importantly perhaps, he wants to streamline the amount they ‘cost’ the state.

Louise Casey has been appointed as a ‘Tsar’ to oversee a ‘troubled families’ unit which sounds like some kind of Stalinist initiative.

Not that I don’t want people who need help to get help in the most cost effective and streamlined way but there are a few issues on which I would challenge Pickles and the government. Firstly the direct correlation that they seem to draw between the riots in the summer and particular familial issues.

The government really need to make their mind up about what they perceive to be the reasons for the riots. Personally I think they are oversimplifying to the nth degree and trying to ostracise and target particular social groups. Yes, gangs may have been an element but the reasons the riots spread has to be taken much more broadly than that. The subsequent arrests show the age ranges were not necessarily concentrated around ‘youth’ and the class base of those pillaging the country is much broader than these ‘troubled’ families if you include the political classes who continue to twist rules (re: Liam Fox) and virtually ravage public services (NHS) just as those on the street looted the electronics stores.

There are broader issues which have created a ‘must have’ society and it is not only the so-called ‘troubled families’ and ‘gangs’ that need to be tackled but the corruptions at the heart of the political elite that create an ‘us versus them’ attitude to rule and one which is not helped by highlighting those who are ‘troubled’ and targetting them.

Back to Pickles though, the article quotes him as saying

“the common refrain was where are the parents? Why aren’t they keeping their kids indoors? Why weren’t they with them in court? The whole country got a sudden, unwelcome insight into our problem families. The ones that make misery in their communities and cause misery to themselves.”

What Pickles fails to appreciate is that ‘the country’ got in welcome insight in the summer to far more than these ‘problem families’. We got an insight into the way that our society has developed a materialistic and opportunist streak that is by no means confined to the ‘less than 1% of the population’.

Indeed, it was the willingness of those who are  not in this particular group of ‘troubled families’ to join the general lawlessness and looting that was the real social issue evidence in the aftermath of the rioting.

So what is a ‘troubled family’?

A family with multiple problems has been defined by the cabinet office as “no parent in the family is in work; the family lives in poor quality or overcrowded housing; no parent has any qualifications; the mother has mental health problems; at least one parent has a long-standing limiting illness, disability or infirmity; the family has low income (below 60% of the median); or the family cannot afford a number of food and clothing items”.

Let’s see. Unemployment, poor housing, poor education.. oh look, mental health has been thrown in there too to add to the stigma as well as disability and low income. Hmm. That is a ‘problem’ family. Well, has it ever occured to the government that removing access to a comprehensive and supportive benefit system and social housing and decent education might actually cause some of these compounded ‘troubles’  rather than tackling the so-called ‘troubled’ families that arise from these social and financial circumstances.

Surely the proverbial ‘prevention is better than cure’ maxim applies? In which case, why doesn’t the government tackle the issues behind poverty rather than exacerbating them and marginalising and stigmatising poverty and the effects of poverty by dismissing families who grow up with these issues as ‘troubled’.

Labelling hurts. Labelling by a government is pure discrimination and playing politics with peoples’ lives is worse yet.

Troubled maybe, but troubled to whom?

I don’t say these families should not receive further help. Of course they should but they should on the basis of the poor housing, low incomes and ill-health rather than because they are ‘problems’.

Who created these problems and how can they be solved? That should be what the government is asking. How can we build a society with a sufficient and appropriate safety net than creates real community and doesn’t destroy localities and local services. The government cannot absolve itself from all social projects and social services by laying the blame on the ‘troubled families’ line without accepting responsibility.

Or maybe they can but we shouldn’t allow their narrative to become the predominant one.

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7 thoughts on “Pickles and ‘Troubled Families’

  1. Let’s see, those would be the families that routinely access support from CAMHS, social services, young carer services, Sure Start, voluntary agencies…Oh wait, we’re chopping the funding to all of those.

  2. I guess I shouldn’t be shocked at the governments description of a troubled family – but I am disturbed by it. Who comes up with this stigmatising BS!?

    I came from a poverty background, but managed to ‘better’ myself in spite of our family meeting many of those labels, when my husband developed a brain tumour we were sucked back into meeting many of those labels again, and my own kids have grown up well-rounded (not rioters for a start!) and I have escaped many of those labels again since my husband died.

    But while disability and mental health issues get lumped into this category the people in most need of help are not getting it – as Zarathstra says – and its not just that the funding is being cut – I have had virtually NO support from any of these agencies anyway over the 16 years I have managed alone as a carer for a son with autism, daughter with a heart condition, and husband who died of his brain tumour, then myself being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (my mental health issues probably exacerbated due to the ‘lack’ of help I received over those 16 years!) and I still managed to get a 2.1 honors degree whilst dealing with all that on my own!? Troubled family? yeah, but not in the way the gvt see it – we never got in debt, rioted, broke the law etc as a result of our troubles…

    The families that did those things, the real trouble makers? – no illness/disability other than ‘lazyness’ , no mental heath issues other than ‘ignoramus’, out of work – yes but due to no desire to work, no qualifications – yes but only due to no desire to educate themselves, over-crowded housing – yes but only due to a desire to keep having new babies with new fathers every couple of years to further avoid working, inability to put food on table – only due to buying 50″ plasma TV’s and £300 Nike trainers for every child! – Now that is the kind of ‘troubled family’ I have experienced who break the law, have antisocial behaviour problems and so on.

    Plea to the gvt – please don’t lump families like mine who do our best despite our troubles with those who are troubled because they don’t ‘try’ to be anything better!!

  3. I agree with you both (which won’t come as a surprise!) and showard76 – that’s what I mean by creating more stigma with this rather unpleasant ‘blame game’ the government is playing.

  4. Pingback: Support or Social Control? « The Not So Big Society

  5. Poor education, housing, employment will only create more “problem families”, riots are the language of the unheard, and they’re only interested in ‘these people’ when they are a public order nuisance, they don’t give a toss otherwise.

  6. It has reached the stage with this Government where I wear their denigrations with pride.Various utterances from Government Ministers (including the “thoroughly decent”) IDS have labelled my wife and I as “thick,addicted,non-contributers,feckless,scrounging,largely responsible for the deficit, irresponsible degenerates chosing a lifestyle to be dependent on the State for years;some of the descriptors evident in Pickle’s description apply to us.Come on Government are we a “problem family”-yes or no?

    • Again, I couldn’t agree more. The stigmatising of people who need support from the government is distasteful in the extreme and must be challenged more and challenged often.

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