Out of trouble: Families with complex problems

David Cameron pledged that his government should be judged on its success at transforming the lives of 120,000 of Britain’s most troubled families. Following 2011’s riots, families with multiple problems have been a subject of much discussion. How can charities and funders help these families and ensure problems don’t continue generation after generation?

Children from troubled families are eight times more likely to be suspended or excluded from school than other children, and ten times more likely to be in trouble with the police. The prime minister pledged that his government should be judged on its success at transforming the lives of 120,000 such families by 2015. But who are these families, and why are they such a problem?

As the dust settled on last summer’s riots, attention shifted from the young people who had been rioting to the families that they had grown up in. The government defines troubled families as those where parents are out of work, children are not in school, and family members are involved in anti-social behaviour and crime. These families often face a range of other problems as well, such as mental and physical ill-health, domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction, isolation, and relationship breakdowns. Such problems are often long-standing and inter-generational.

These families face personal difficulties and distress, but they also create problems for others in their community, and are very expensive to the taxpayer. It is estimated that the 120,000 most troubled families cost society up to £9bn every year.

NPC’s report shows how private funders can make a difference in this challenging and complex area, and potentially help thousands more families in trouble to lead healthy, happy and productive lives.


In 2011, Barclays Wealth commissioned NPC to identify the UK’s costliest social problems, and the most effective charitable interventions to address them. As a result, we published Early interventions: An economic approach to charitable giving, identifying the three most costly issues in the UK: chaotic families, children with conduct disorders and mental health and employment. Out of trouble gives funders more detail on the first issue.

We are grateful to Barclays Wealth for supporting the original research that provides the basis for this report.

 The most vulnerable families are least likely to access and benefit from support—often because they think that their children might be taken away or because they have been turned away from services in the past.

Matthew van Poortvliet, NPC