How many ‘troubled families’ are there? The government is ultra precise. It says, without hesitation, 120,000. Professor Ruth Levitas of the University of Bristol is sceptical. Do we have an exact definition of ‘troubled’? The Department for Communities and Local Government ‘makes a discursive move from families that have troubles, through families that are ‘troubled’, to families that are or cause trouble.
The government figure comes from work done on 2004 data showing 2 per cent of families showed with a certain number of predefined indicators of disadvantage or problem. But coming from a survey, any figure is subject to sampling error and that means, the number of ‘troubled families’ could be as low as 60,000 or as high as 300,000.
Levitas goes on to show how trying to allocate these families to particular areas is difficult, given the nature of the data.
She concludes after inspecting the data base for the policy the government has not made rigorous use of the research ’In the term ‘troubled families’ it deliberately conflates families experiencing multiple disadvantage and families that cause trouble. The attributed costings are obscure and certainly open to question.’