MPs savage ministers over discredited 'troubled families' scheme
MPs have torn into David Cameron's flagship scheme set up to help “troubled” families, arguing failures in delivery and exaggerations of success had “undermined” any achievements.
The powerful Public Accounts Committee argued the key measurement of the ‘Troubled Families Programme’ [TFP] was misleading and sought short-term outcomes that damaged its success.
It also said ministers failed to show the scheme provided financial savings, while slamming the delay of a damning evaluation report as “unacceptable”.
Set up after the 2011 riots, the TFP pledged to “turn around” the lives of 120,000 families by reducing levels of truancy, anti-social behaviour and youth offending, or by helping a family member find continuous employment.
Ministers claimed to have helped 99% of the families targeted and saved £1.2bn in public service costs such as police callouts through a payment-by-results scheme to local councils.
But an official evaluation published earlier this year found the scheme, estimated to have cost more than £1bn including £450m of central government cash, had failed to achieve any significant impact.
Today MPs lamented that the payment-by-results scheme incentivised councils to fast-track families through the programme at the expense of tackling deep-rooted issues.
The official evaluation found some local authorities identified families that had already achieved positive outcomes then retrospectively branded them ‘troubled’ to claim the reward cash.
The PAC criticised use of the term “turned around” for its suggestion deep social problems had been fixed within months, arguing it risked “undermining the entire concept of this work”.
It lambasted the estimated savings figure, after the Department for Communities was forced to admit it did not account for the costs of delivering the programme.
And it condemned the delay of more than a year to produce the official evaluation report, arguing the wait “furthered the impression that government is reluctant to be open and transparent about the Troubled Families programme”.
Committee chair and Labour MP Meg Hillier said criticism over the evaluation delay was “far more serious” than a slap on the wrist.
She added: “The Department has undermined any achievements the Government might legitimately claim for its overall work in this area…
“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.”
In October the National Institute of Economic and Social Research said there was “no significant or systematic impact” of the programme.
It said: “The key finding is that across a wide range of outcomes, covering the key objectives of the Troubled Families Programme – employment, benefit receipt, school attendance, safeguarding and child welfare – we were unable to find consistent evidence that the programme had any significant or systematic impact.
“The vast majority of impact estimates were statistically insignificant, with a very small number of positive or negative results.
“These results are consistent with those found by the separate and independent impact analysis using survey data, also published today, which also found no significant or systemic impact on outcomes related to employment, job seeking, school attendance, or anti-social behaviour.”
The report found that outcomes for families in the programme were almost identical to those who were not given special treatment: 45% still claimed jobless benefits a year-and-a-half later, while anti-social behaviour, criminal offences, and truancy levels were no lower for those in the programme.