London councils' success in working with 'troubled families'

Thousands of troubled families in London struggling with issues such as unemployment, high personal debt and engaging in antisocial behaviour have been helped to start turning their lives around by London's boroughs in the past three years, according to government figures published this week.

  • By London Councils

The government’s Troubled Families programme tasks local government with delivering support and interventions to families with often complex needs. The programme is delivered through joined-up local multi-agency working, led by local authorities and aims to help families become more independent, improve their opportunities and reduce the impact on their local communities.

Under the programme, councils were free to develop their own locally-tailored schemes to help troubled families. It recognised that local authorities are uniquely positioned to understand local communities, bring together public services and build partnerships with community and voluntary groups.

Mayor Jules Pipe, Chair of London Councils and Major of Hackney, said:

Major Jules Pipe

“The success in turning around the lives of troubled families is a huge success story and demonstrates the effectiveness of tackling our big problems locally. It is also testament to the hard work of councils, partner agencies and family members working together.

“The programme has shown how effective it can be to put councils at the centre of efforts to reduce spending while tackling complex problems. The government must surely consider these figures in the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review.”


In December 2011 the Prime Minister set out his intention to ensure that 120,000 troubled families are ‘turned around’ by the end of this Parliament through joined up local multi-agency working, led by local authorities.
Troubled families are identified as those that have multi-faceted issues and who cause problems to the community around them, putting high costs on the public sector.

In its first phase the government defined Troubled Families as households which:

  • have children not in school    
  • are involved with crime or ASB    
  • have an adult on out of work benefits   
  • cause high costs to the public purse   

As such, the programme aimed to:

  • get children back into school
  • reduce youth crime and ASB
  • put adults on a path back to work
  • reduce costs to the public purse

Spending Round 2013 included the announcement of an additional £200 million for 2015-2016 to extend the Troubled Families programme beyond 2015 and help a further 400,000 families over five years.

Phase two of the programme began in April 2015. In phase two the programme includes families which meet the current criteria plus those:

  • affected by domestic violence
  • with vulnerable children
  • with a range of mental health and physical health issues
  • with a high risk of worklessness
  • involved in crime from generation to generation.

The expansion of the Troubled Families in 2015 to deliver family intervention to even more families is a significant vote of confidence for local authorities. 

In return local authorities and their partners are showing they can learn from, and build on, the success of the first phase.

The Troubled Families programme offers a useful demonstration of how agencies can more generally work with those with complex and multiple issues. By delivering the right services and the right interventions at the right time in a family’s journey local authorities and their partners can start to truly manage ‘complex dependency’ and reduce later service demand.

The Troubled Families programme can be also seen as a useful demonstration of how central government can work with local government and other agencies to bring budgets and services together in a pro-active way at a local level. The programme has benefited from the trust shown in local government to get on and help turn around the lives of some of the families that place the greatest demand on public services.

Other parts of government could benefit from this approach when working with local government. The success of the Troubled Families programme should be seen as a sign that devolving responsibility and funding for a number of other key public services to the local level – where the benefits of integration and personalisation can be realised – offers a unique opportunity to bring services together to improve outcomes and cut costs

London Councils