New family fund cuts social costs

Published: Wednesday 27th April 11

The council has taken the first step in its radical new programme to get people back into work, break the cycle of benefit dependency and help make families more stable.

Wandsworth is one of 16 areas chosen by the government to pilot new Community Budgets, which tackle social problems by targeting whole families.

Under the current system a small group of families can make disproportionate demands on the public purse, with each seeking help from up to 20 different professionals, and potentially costing as much as £330,000 a year. Much of this cost is met by the council and local tax payers.

Community budgets can save money by joining up services, cutting inefficiency and waste and reducing the likelihood of future problems such as youth offending and domestic violence.

Councillors agreed last week to invest £588,000 over the next two years to fund the scheme with a view to making substantial long-term savings in the future. A Family Recovery Programme (FRP) will be set up with the council's partners to implement it. This will start work in October.

Community Budgets mean a multi-agency approach, with organisations such as the police, NHS Wandsworth and Job Centre Plus working together to create a 'team around the family'.

A group of about 30 families with the most complex needs will be identified, and the different agencies will work together to tackle the root cause of problems rather than just the symptoms. The aim is to help make families more stable and less reliant on intensive and costly public services.

The programme works with families to reduce problems like anti-social behaviour and aims to get people back into work and break the cycle of benefit dependency. Evidence from elsewhere shows that this has a positive effect on individuals - and a positive knock-on effect for the wider community.

Each family will be assigned its own team of professionals, which will help the family set clear goals and implement a tailor-made 12- to 18-month care plan. Families will be expected to sign a formal contract as part of the programme and they will get help to access other types of help when the contract comes to an end.

The full annual cost of the scheme is estimated at £865,000. The cost will be met by the council, from contributions from a range of other local service providers and by reconfiguring existing services. Progress will be carefully independently monitored and evaluated to assess how money invested in these families now saves the public purse in the future.

Leader of the council Edward Lister said:

"We like the idea of community budgets. It breaks down the barriers between different agencies so that experts in health, social care, housing, crime reduction and other services can work together to get to the root of social problems. People seeking help will no longer have to bounce from one agency to another.

"We are not trying to stigmatise certain families, but by focusing on family groups we can see how one family member's problems can impact on another, and on the whole community. We can also target help to the parts of the borough that need it the most.

"This is a prime example of the kind of fresh thinking the Wandsworth Challenge is all about. We want to cut through all the red tape and muddled thinking of the past and take a bold and innovative approach to providing services that will be a real and positive difference to the lives of local people."

 

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