Government to fund relationship support for unemployed families

Anushka Asthana Political editor
Jobcentre Plus. The move is part of a £215m package that will also see a new phase of the government’s heavily criticised troubled families programme. Photograph: Philip Toscano/PA

Children whose parents are at loggerheads with each other are less likely to do well at school and into adulthood, ministers have claimed, as they promised to pour tens of millions of pounds into relationship support.

Damian Green, the work and pensions secretary, said children picked up on tensions within the family and that this could reduce their “emotional bandwidth” in dealing with day-to-day issues.

The move is part of a £215m package that will also see a new phase of the government’s heavily criticised troubled families programme, with a fresh emphasis on joblessness.

Green told the Guardian that failure to secure work was often at the root of multiple problems and said that specialist staff in jobcentres would be used to identify and target families under the plans.

He said his department had carried out new analysis that found children in workless families were almost twice as likely not to reach the expected level at all stages of their education.

Three-quarters of children from families where no one works failed to reach the expected level at GCSE, compared to about half of children in lower-income working families.

Green said support would focus on tackling alcohol and drug addiction but also on reducing conflict between parents, even if they were separated or divorced.

“A child’s chances in life shouldn’t be defined by the background they come from,” he told the Guardian. “Two of the big problems we need to solve are children of workless households who need more help and children whose parents are in conflict whether or not they are together.

“Children pick up tension and it leaves them with less emotional bandwidth to deal with day-to-day problems.”

The Department for Work and Pensions’ analysis, published on Tuesday, claimed joblessness was often a key factor making people “considerably more likely to experience problems with their relationships, have poor mental health and be in problem debt”.

It included figures claiming 300,000 workless families were potentially affected by conflict between parents. The department also said that children did better if they had a “close, supportive relationship with their father”, but said only half of children in separated families saw their non-resident parent every fortnight or more.

The new policy will see £30m going into a programme to help parents resolve conflict through independent providers. There will also be plans to enhance the role of Jobcentre Plus to take up a more active role in the troubled families work, which was first launched by David Cameron in the wake of the 2011 summer riots. Researchers have since been critical of its findings.

Tuesday’s policy announcement represents the first in a series planned by the DWP that will replace the “life chances strategy” Cameron had expected to publish in the days after the EU referendum had he won the vote. The former prime minister was hoping that the plans, thought to focus heavily on family stability, would make up a key part of his legacy as Conservative leader.

However, May scrapped the original report, with some sources claiming she feared any move that might stigmatise separated parents. A long-anticipated social justice green paper, to replace the strategy, appears to have been delayed by the policy papers taking its place.

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