Success of Troubled Families Programme over-emphasised, say MPs

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The Public Accounts Committee says the Government ‘misled’ the public by claiming its Troubled Families programme ‘turned around’ the lives of 99 per cent of families (116,654) with ‘multiple disadvantages’ in England.

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MPs have criticised the Government for overstating the success of its Troubled Families Programme

Within its report into the effectiveness of the programme, published today, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) argues that the DCLG ‘overstated’ its success and financial benefits. The DCLG claimed the Troubled Families programme had saved taxpayers £1.2bn.

The PAC states that families were considered ‘turned around’ on the basis of short-term outcomes rather than ‘long-term, sustainable change in families’ lives.’

The DCLG considered a family to be ‘turned around’ if it experienced a significant reduction in levels of truancy, anti-social behaviour and youth offending, or if an adult in the family moved into permanent employment.

The first phase of the Troubled Families programme was launched in 2012 by the Department for Communities and Local Government with the aim of ‘turning around’ the lives of the 120,000 ‘most troubled families’ in England by 2015.

The PAC report goes on to criticise the DCLG for delaying by more than a year an evaluation of phase one of the programme, which it says was also 'unable to find consistent evidence that the Troubled Families programme had any significant impact’.

It claims that the Department was ‘evasive when explaining the reasons for the delay, furthering the impression that Government is reluctant to be open and transparent about the Troubled Families programme.’

The PAC concludes by making a series of recommendations to improve evaluation of the programme.

It also calls upon the Government to review the programme’s payment by results framework, which it says ‘led to some councils attempting to move families through the programme quickly, potentially at the expense of reduced quality of support.’

Local authorities claimed payments for 116,654 families out of the maximum 117,910 for which they could claim in the first phase, says the report.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said, ‘Government officials might be inclined to consider our comments on the delay in publishing its Troubled Families evaluation as a slap on the wrist about Whitehall bureaucracy.

‘Let me assure them that given the ambitions for this programme, the implications for families and the significant sums of money invested, it is far more serious than that.’

She added, ‘It is particularly important with a new initiative that there is transparency so the Government can learn and adapt the programme.

'The Department has undermined any achievements the Government might legitimately claim for its overall work in this area.

'In particular, it was a mistake to use short-term criteria as the measure for successfully 'turning around' families, many of whom are grappling with long-term social problems.

‘A tick in a box to meet a Prime Ministerial target is no substitute for a lasting solution to difficulties that may take years to properly address.

‘We would also question the suitability of the Government's "payment by results" model, which similarly risks incentivising quantity over quality.’

According to the PAC, the DCLG has now committed to providing Parliament with an annual report on progress achieved through the Troubled Families Programme, starting in March next year.

A Government spokesman said, ‘As the PAC report recognises, the Troubled Families programme enabled local authorities to expand and transform the way local services work with families.  

‘But of course, there will always be lessons to learn and we have already made significant improvements to the second stage of the programme. 

‘We will look carefully at the evidence to find out how we can improve the programme further to help some of the most vulnerable people in our society.’

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