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MARK FIELD: Fight against deprivation is just the start

PUBLISHED: 15:17 18 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:38 07 September 2010

I strongly believe that social breakdown can be greatly reduced by solutions developed at a local level rather than simply by national policies. As such I am delighted to record the success of Westminster City Council s Family Recovery Programme (FRP). T

I strongly believe that social breakdown can be greatly reduced by solutions developed at a local level rather than simply by national policies.

As such I am delighted to record the success of Westminster City Council's Family Recovery Programme (FRP). The FRP is an encouraging example of a local authority taking a pioneering lead in tackling social deprivation in all of its forms.

Here in Westminster the startling figures are that three percent of local families are responsible for almost 80 percent of all social care spending.

Westminster City Council has undertaken detailed research not only to understand the multiple symptoms of social deprivation but to put into action a response tailored specifically to families here in central London.

The city council has acknowledged that far too often, children's services and adult services simply fail to link up effectively.

Such poor communication is also frequently reflected in our education and health systems.

The result is while wide resources may be available, a lack of co-ordinated action means that many individuals and, consequently, families simply slip through the net.

Similarly, a key problem with previous attempts to address family breakdown, often designed by central government, is the tendency to use a "one size fits all" approach which fails to take into account the specific and complex needs of a family in trouble.

The FRP is a multi-agency scheme which persistently intervenes and supports families.

At its core are not bureaucratic targets or state reports but a dedicated group of professionals known as the Team around the Family (TaF).

Each TaF is suitably skilled to identify and respond to any of the multitude of symptoms of social deprivation.

Its work covers adult mental health, benefits, education, housing, substance abuse, access to training and work, childcare and domestic violence.

Importantly, the FRP has a number of unique features which help to outline how such difficulties can be tackled in a practical way. For example, at the heart of the project is the recognition that the family is the most important building block of a healthy society.

This focus leads to a co-ordinated support system being set up not just for an individual but the wider family thus preventing the flow of social problems from one generation to another.

Yet, it would be a mistake to characterise the programme as a one-way provision of support.

In order to promote responsibility and reduce dependency, each family who enters the programme signs up to a contract.

This not only outlines the support they can expect but also sets out the possible sanctions in the event of failure to co-operate.

Unlike so many proposals to take on social breakdown in recent times, the FRP is not just impressive in theory.

It works in practice.

Indeed, in just over one year since its implementation initial results are extremely impressive.

With around 45 families signed up, 78 percent of parents have now decided to attend further parenting courses, while 83 percent have had their benefits reviewed.

These reviews have led to a number of benefits being re-adjusted and some previous claimants have even returned to full-time employment.

Meanwhile, local Westminster residents will be delighted to learn that 55 percent of families with a history of anti-social behaviour have had no further complaints against them since a TaF first made contact.

In terms of education more than 61 percent of the children involved have now improved their school attendance levels and, financially, 56 percent of families have now cleared, or are on established plans to reduce their debts or housing benefit arrears.

These impressive results are I believe only the beginning and I hope to see substantial progress over the years ahead in reducing the level of social deprivation here in Westminster.

o Mark Field is MP for Cities of London and Westminster


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