Cameron is right about ‘problem families’

Now there’s a headline I never thought that I would write. Me backing Cameron – well it is only a 75% success rate because I don’t agree with absolutely everything he says. Where he is right is in accepting that society as a whole and government in particular has failed a large number of families, if some of them can be called that, where unemployment is endemic and aspiration none existent.

I have used this extreme case before so forgive me if you have heard my rant but let’s take the baby Peter case. 14 sets of professionals from 14 different organisations intervened in the life of that child and his family. All of them were responsible but not one of them took responsibility. The result was that a child dies and a council officer was scapegoated but no fundamental changes were made in the system.

The Laming reports into the successive failures in Haringey should have been called the lame duck reports. They failed to deal with the fundamental failures of the system but instead tinkered with something that is inherently rotten. We have too many organisations defending their own professionalism and their own interests and too few organisations that are prepared to drop their identity and work in true partnership with others.

Where I disagree with Cameron is over the use of the phrase ‘trouble-shooters’. The last thing that these stressed families need is a trouble shooter. What they actually need is a Saint in their lives. If we cannot manage that what they all need is an Aunty Mary. Every family used to have an Aunty Mary and it was never an Uncle Malcolm. Aunty May was the source of all knowledge. The matriarch of the tribe she would dispense internal justice and advice. She was the overseer of the family’s relationship with the outside world and the arbiter of disputes within it. But the state killed off Aunty Marys. We partly did it through the planning process. We spilt families up. In the words of a well known Liverpool folk song, “Don’t want to Kirby, to Skelmersdale or Speke; don’t want to go from all I know in back Buchannan Street”. We don’t do it as crudely as we did back in the 50s, 60s and 70s but we are still doing it. Our investment programmes for social housing combined with ridiculous land values and arcane planning laws are still splitting up families.

A spilt family is one that cannot manage the storms of life. Grandma and Grandpa cannot baby sit or pop in whilst mum and dad go to work. Kids get separated from their older relations. As one of those older relations this concerns me a lot! The old mechanisms have been destroyed and the new mechanisms have been shown to be ineffective. The idea of generic, caring social workers has been destroyed in a mass of specialisms, targets, complex laws and facile regulations. We need people who will go into families and help not people who will be constrained by well meaning busy bodies.

Do not listen to the siren calls of Labour who complain about less money for child care at this level. Actually not only is the system wasteful of lives and families it is wasteful of resources. The organisations overlap, interfere with each other and lose their base contact with the family. In this area as in many others we could do a lot more with a lost less. Having money available has obscured solutions not created them.

So in this, if nothing else, Dave stick to your guns and produce the big changes in working that are so desperately needed.


About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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