Local authorities help 450 families off 'sofa of despair'
Town halls in Devon and Cornwall have recorded a notable surge in turning around the lives of troubled families as ministers claimed they were getting people off "the sofa of despair".
Four upper-tier authorities in the two counties have now helped 450 households through measures to get children to attend classes, take adults off benefits and reduce the cost to public services.
Government figures state there are 3,750 troubled families to help in Devon and Cornwall, and between them they cost the state £280 million a year in police, NHS and council costs, an average of almost £75,000 per family, excluding benefits. In March this year, just 20 families in the two counties had been "turned around".
Last year, the Government pledged to allocate £448 million to turn around the lives of the UK's 120,000 most troubled families, following the 2011 riots which swept London and other English cities.
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Councils are paid up to £4,000 for "turning around" troubled families. Communities secretary Eric Pickles dismissed a suggestion that the scheme was about rewarding people who behave badly.
He told ITV1's Daybreak programme: "Not really – this is about trying to break a cycle of deprivation that's crossed generations."
He added: "We have to do something about this, because these families are a great drain on the nation. They cost us £9 billion a year – £8 billion of which is just reacting to them."
He said local authorities looked at the most difficult families.
"It's very straightforward really," he said. "It's about getting children back into school, it's about getting people off the sofa of despair and into work, and it's cutting down the amount of anti-social behaviour that family is committing, because often we have seen on larger estates these families can be quite a nuisance."
Devon County Council's targeted family support programme is working with 300 families across Devon in year one in seven areas: Exmouth, Exeter, Tiverton, Ilfracombe and Braunton, Bideford, Teignmouth West and Okehampton. A single civil servant is deployed to get to "work intensively" with a family.
Cornwall Council's Together for Families scheme aims to help families with problems getting children to school or with the police, and parents struggling to hold down a job.
In March, only Plymouth had managed to help troubled families, but progress is now being made across the region.
Devon has now turned round 75 families and has a target of helping 1,370. Cornwall has had success with 165 households, but is some way off the 1,270 target. Plymouth has helped 154 families out of 745. In Torbay, 69 families are no longer causing problems from a target of 365.