Thurrock Council: New information revealed about profiles for vulnerable people

By Local Democracy Reporter
Steve Shaw

NEW information has been revealed about a controversial computer system that is being used to create profiles on vulnerable people in Thurrock.

Information on the system known to the council as the “predictive modelling platform” has been revealed through a freedom of information request.

It outlines how council data from housing, education, social care, benefits and debt all contribute to the creation of a profile that is used to predict whether a person is at risk.

Thurrock Council Offices

The profiles then assign “potential vulnerable people” a score that indicates whether they need attention from social services. That risk score is stored in a secure centre where identifiable details are replaced with artificial ones, a process known as pseudonymised data.

The identifying details are only re-added when the case is accessed by a professional, such as a social worker.

The system has been created by a private company called Xantura and aims to cut costs and allow services to identify cases early, before they become more complex. It is estimated that by 2020, the council will have spent £1.14million on the system.

In four years the system has become so embedded within Thurrock’s social services that it is responsible for 100 per cent of referrals to the Troubled Family programme, a government-led scheme aimed at early social work intervention. The council also claims it has an 80 per cent success rate in predicting children who are at risk and should enter safeguarding.

A new phase of the project got underway in July, which will see predictions being made for “homelessness prevention, informed debt collections and anti-social behaviour profiling”.

Xantura has denied that the goal is to accuse people of future crimes and stress that they do not have the ability to recommend what actions the council should take once the profiles have been created.

When details of the programme emerged last month civil liberties group Big Brother Watch branded it a “terrible idea” which risks “profiling families and casting suspicion over their parenting abilities on the basis of high tech stereotyping”.

Councillor Sue Little, portfolio holder for Children and Adult Social Care, said: “It is important to emphasise that data analytics systems are only part of the process and further verification and checks are carried out prior to any intervention.

“At a time when demand on services such as children’s social care is rising nationally, the use of data analytics provides us with an opportunity to better identify those most in need of help and support. It is not a case of judging people, rather it helps enable us to prevent issues from escalating and reduce the need for statutory interventions, which can be distressing for families.

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