• Dear Mr Cameron ....

    Working on the evaluation of In Harmony Liverpool has been a wonderful experience and it has reinforced my fundamental belief that the arts can change people’s lives. Watching children develop new confidence, enhanced well being and aspiration has been both inspiring and humbling. In Harmony Liverpool was one of three DfE funded pilot programmes aiming to create social change in deprived communities through the medium of music and the orchestra. Modelled on El Sistema, the programme was ambitious and exciting. The Liverpool pilot started in April 2009 and I have been working with my colleague, Paul Bewick, to evaluate it since that date. Three years on and we have strong evidence that the programme is working on many levels. There is a virtuous cycle of change occurring within the children, within the school community, within families and within the West Everton community within which the programme takes place.

    In Harmony provides an immersive music education to all children living in West Everton, one of the most deprived wards in Liverpool. It is based in one school, Faith Primary. The West Everton Children’s Orchestra now has several attached ensembles and watching them rehearse and play never ceases to move me. In Harmony Liverpool continues to provide compelling evidence that the model provides an enriching musical education, improved academic attainment in other core curriculum areas and that it is a potential powerful model for social change and the generation of social capital.

    Yesterday, I read that you have announced a new programme to deal with ‘troubled families’. The new programme will direct £448 million to the Troubled Families Unit to turn around the lives of these families over the next three years. Government defines a troubled family as follows:

    “A troubled family is one that has serious problems - including parents not working, mental health problems, and children not in school - and causes serious problems, such as crime and anti-social behaviour. All of which costs local services a lot of time and money routinely responding to these problems.” (http://www.communities.gov.uk/communities/troubledfamilies/)

    There are an estimated 120,000 of these families, and, according to government, £9 billion is being spent annually on them. That works out at £75,000 per family per year. £8 billion of this is spent on reacting to the troubles of these families with just £1 billion being spent trying to turn around their lives in a targeted, positive way. Surely that is not the right way around?

    Now, what kinds of interventions might such significant funding support? Might government, both local and national begin to consider the cost benefits of arts interventions like In Harmony as worthwhile interventions in this context? I do hope so ....

    The £448 million will come from the Department for Communities and Local Government and a number of other government departments: the Department for Education, the Home Office, the Department of Health, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Justice. Each made a contribution to the programme by reprioritising their Departmental spend.

    Mr Cameron, I suggest that there is a need for a different kind of reprioritisation – government claims that “previous attempts have failed with such families”. Shift the money to different forms of intervention and listen to those of us that advocate new solutions. So, here is my suggestion, Mr Cameron. Instead of spending £75,000 on taking and keeping children in care, criminal justice and youth offending, health costs (including A& E visits), infrastructure interventions such as alley gating, neighbour nuisance teams etc .... might it be better to consider long term investment in programmes of work that adopt a more holistic approach to rebuilding a community through pride, aspiration and social capital? The arts can help you to provide ways in which this can be achieved. In Harmony Liverpool works with in excess of 40 families and a large proportion of these meet the criteria outlined by you as defining a ‘troubled family’. At a cost of £7,500 per annum per family the programme is having a profound effect on these families and the community that they live in. And that is a 90% reduction on what your government currently estimates is being spent on them!

    That is good value for money AND it is achieving genuine and lasting change.

    1 Comment

    • 1. Jan 27 2012 1:32PM by Mike Morris

      Brilliant BLOG - What is the best way to bring this to the attention of the Governmant or any other body who can evaluate and possible impliment a scheme such as in Harmony?

      I have an idea! could launching a website e.g. www.savecommunities.org.uk to promote and gather momentum for such schemes work? just a thought. Also this can be highlighted through facebook.

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