City Research Online

The problems with troubled families: Rethinking the analysis behind the 120,000 troubled families statistic

Barnes, M. ORCID: 0000-0002-0702-5222 and Ross, A. (2021). The problems with troubled families: Rethinking the analysis behind the 120,000 troubled families statistic. Social Policy and Society,


In the aftermath of the 2011 England riots, the then Prime Minister David Cameron referred to a ‘small number of families as the source of a large number of problems in society’ (Cameron, 2011). Soon after this announcement, the Troubled Families Programme was set up by the government, with a budget of £448 million to ‘turn around’ 120,000 troubled families. Despite government rhetoric focusing on ‘neighbours from hell’ (ibid.) with a ‘culture of disruption and irresponsibility that cascades through generations’ (ibid.), the initial estimate of the number of troubled families did not include any indicators of problematic behaviours, such as crime or anti-social behaviour. Instead, a measure previously used by government to classify families with multiple social and economic disadvantages, such as low income, poor housing and health problems, was used (Social Exclusion Task Force, 2007a).

This article revisits the analysis behind the initial identification of the 120,000 troubled families and explores more widely the overlap between families with multiple social and economic disadvantage and their engagement in problematic behaviours. It does this through analysis of the same dataset used to create the 120,000 troubled families statistic – the Families and Children Study (FACS). Our reanalysis of FACS reveals that although families experiencing multiple social and economic disadvantage were at an increased risk of displaying problematic behaviour, only a small minority did so. A more thorough analysis of this data by government prior to the introduction of the Troubled Families Programme may have changed the basis of economic calculations that underpinned the programme, and some of the misleading rhetoric around ‘troubled families’.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article will be published in a revised form in Social Policy and Society by Cambridge University Press. This version is published under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND. No commercial re-distribution or re-use allowed. Derivative works cannot be distributed.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
Departments: School of Arts & Social Sciences > Sociology
Date available in CRO: 24 Aug 2021 09:35
Date deposited: 24 August 2021
Date of acceptance: 18 August 2021
Text - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (364kB) | Preview



Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics

Actions (login required)

Admin Login Admin Login