The Troubled Families programme is 'underperforming': NAO report

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Two Government programmes designed to help troubled families in Britain must improve in order to meet expectations, according to the National Audit Office (NAO).

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The 'Troubled Families' programme aims to target problems such as truancy and anti-social behaviour

The NAO says that the Troubled Families and Families with Multiple Problems programmes, set up to help families facing challenges such as unemployment, antisocial behaviour and truancy, are having an impact, but has urged government departments to improve key aspects of performance in order to meet ‘ambitious’ targets.

The NAO report says that while it is too early to assess the value for money of the programmes, which cost a joint total of over £648m, judging by each programme’s own criteria for success Families with Multiple Problems is ‘falling well short of its projections’ and Troubled Families is behind in meeting targets for local authorities although it has so far exceeded the Department for Communities and Local Government's (DCLG) own internal measures of progress.

The Government’s overall objective of ‘turning around’ 120,000 families will only be fulfilled if both programmes meet all their own targets, it adds.

While local authorities have successfully ‘turned around’ 22,000 families to date as part of the DCLG’s programme, exceeding its target by three per cent, local authorities have attached only 62,000 families to the programme, which, according to the NAO, is 13 per cent below what should be expected.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said, ‘These innovative and ambitious programmes are beginning to provide some benefits but elements of both are underperforming.  This is the result of poor coordination between the departments when designing and implementing their programmes, and of the risks taken in launching the programmes quickly. 

‘To achieve value for money, the departments must do more to understand how local authorities and providers react to the incentives in payment-by-results arrangements. To achieve their objectives, the departments need to continue to liaise with one another and monitor the success rate of both programmes, adjusting them when necessary. They must continue to work with local authorities and contractors to understand why performance is so varied, intervene if it does not improve, and quickly build an evidence base to show which interventions work best.’

The report points out that there is limited evidence for the DWP’s expectations that its programme will lead to work for over a fifth of its participants, and calculates that it has achieved just four per cent of its target employment outcomes. Local authority referrals of families to the programme have been lower than expected, according to the NAO.

The NAO suggests that the two departments are failing to fully exploit the payment-by-results elements of the programmes and have not worked together enough to minimise overlap. It also notes that performance of both programmes varies significantly between the best- and worst-performing local authorities and contractors.

However, the report did recognise the need for the programme, with the cost to the taxpayer of providing additional services to the 120,000 families involved estimated at around £9billion a year. It also said that families have started to benefit from the programmes, with local authorities using funding to support additional interventions and families becoming increasingly able to address complex challenges, including moving towards employment.

Anne Longfield, chief executive at children and families charity 4Children, said that the report reflected the charity’s own experience of the Troubled Families programme and called for services and professionals in areas such as health, housing, social services and Jobcentre Plus to work together to support its work.

She added, ‘The Government also needs to lead the way for local authorities by ensuring that sufficient resources are available to enable them to realise the full benefits of the programme’s preventative approach. This week’s autumn statement provides an ideal opportunity to do this, and we therefore urge the Chancellor to bring forward additional support for the Troubled Families Programme to 2014, to begin to meet the needs of a wider group of families who are ‘just coping’ and prevent families falling into crisis.’

The Troubled Families programme was launched by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to ‘turn around’ the lives of 120,000 families facing multiple challenges from 2012-2015.

Families with Multiple Problems was introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) with the aim of moving 22 per cent of people in families with multiple problems into employment within three years.

 The full report is available here