Another reason to vote Conservative: troubled families, the state and One Nation

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This is another in our regular series of things the Conservatives have delivered in office that are great but which they don’t talk about enough…

In Dundee in 1996*, the Family Intervention Project took the hugely brave step of looking at evidence (from the US) and trying something new. Instead of managing decline and dealing with problems after they’d occurred – usually entailing punishment or sanctions of some sort – it brought together all the various bits of the state which dealt with problems in people’s lives to try and figure out what was working, what wasn’t, and how to fix those problems rather than just damping them down to a more or less manageable level.

Over the next 15 years, various pledges were made to try and replicate that successful intervention model but sadly not much progress was really made and an ever-greater gap opened up between those with real and complicated problems and the state which is supposed to help and enable us to succeed. So when the Coalition announced that they were committed to a renewed Troubled Families Programme that would help 120,000 families across the UK by knitting together a single point of contact, local services of all flavours and committed and personalised support, people were naturally a little skeptical.

And yet. That programme has worked, with meaningful changes for the better in those individuals’ lives, as well as long-term and sustainable savings in the cost of services they use.

There are two hugely significant aspects to this. The first – more political – is the recognition that the state can and should deliver personalised, coherent, responsive support to its citizens, and that that is – in and of itself – desirable and can be successful. Conservatives have often failed to explain that we do believe in the state, that we believe in its capacity to deliver and its capacity to enable individuals to live better lives, and that we understand that we can and should use the state’s muscle to help people. (As an aside, there’s a nice section in a recent James Forsyth interview with George Osborne on this). If One Nation Conservatism is about anything, it is this: that those who need help should get the best we can give, to enable them to eventually move towards being the ones who can give help as well.

It’s the same argument we should have made, for example, in the 1980s in mining and industrial communities: if people are left behind, we can help, we know what works, and we must help because it enables us all to be stronger and more successful as a result.

The second is personally more important to the people involved: that they have had the necessary support to improve their lives. That their children are in school, that they are getting medical help where needed, that they are being supported to create better lives for themselves, that where they can, they are in work – these are all good, Conservative values. It shows what can be achieved through building practical, committed, trusting relationships that – yes – ask a lot of participants but also frees them to succeed rather than keeps them in an endless cycle of managed failure.

The programme has been so successful for those 120,000 families that it will be extended to another 400,000 through to 2020. This is a lasting and significant improvement both in those families’ lives and in the way that the state approaches failure, and we should be shouting from the rooftops about it.

* Which /clears throat/, no party political point-scoring from me obviously but a) is in Scotland and b) was when the Tories were in government…