Skip to main content

Government 'over-claimed' on performance of families programme

20 December 2016

The Public Accounts Committee report says that Government has not proved the effectiveness of a programme to support troubled families.

Programme's success "overstated"

The Committee also concludes the Government overstated the programme's success through its use of terminology and the method used to estimate financial savings to the taxpayer.

Families were considered 'turned around' on the basis of short-term outcomes rather than "long-term, sustainable change in families' lives", says the Committee, while £1.2 billion of claimed savings was an overstatement.

An official evaluation of the programme was "unable to find consistent evidence" the Troubled Families programme had any significant impact.

Delays in publishing Government evaluation "unacceptable"

The first phase of the Troubled Families programme was launched in April 2012 with initial central government funding of £448 million between 2012 and 2015.
It followed a commitment in 2011 by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, to 'turn around' the lives of the 120,000 most troubled families in England by 2015.
The report describes the delay of more than in year in publishing the phase one evaluation, commissioned by the Government to assess the programme's impact, cost-effectiveness and implementation, as "unacceptable".

Department was evasive in explaining delays

It adds: "The Department was evasive when explaining the reasons for this delay, furthering the impression that government is reluctant to be open and transparent about the Troubled Families programme."
The Committee urges action to address this and makes a series of recommendations to improve evaluation of the programme, to include more meaningful assessment at both national and local authority level.
It also calls for Government to review of the programme's 'payment by results' framework, "which led to some councils attempting to move families through the programme quickly, potentially at the expense of reduced quality of support".

Chair's comments

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the PAC, 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.

But it is particularly important with a new initiative that there is transparency so that 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.

The Department has now committed to providing Parliament with an annual report on progress with the Troubled Families programme, starting in March next year.

For this to be meaningful Government must be far clearer about the benefits that can be directly attributed to the public investment in it.

Only then can Parliament and others properly assess the value for money of this programme and its merits as a model to bring about lasting change in the lives of those families it is intended to support."

Report summary

The Troubled Families programme was established in 2012 by the Department for Communities and Local Government (the Department) with the aim of "turning around" the lives of 120,000 families with multiple disadvantages.

The Department considers a family to be "turned around" if it experiences a significant reduction in levels of truancy, anti-social behaviour, and youth offending, or if an adult in the family moves into continuous employment.

The Department informed us that the programme has impacted positively upon both the lives of troubled families and their associated cost to public services by, for example, reducing the number of times the police are called out.

120,000 families targeted to be "turned around" by local authorities

The Department had a target of turning around the lives of 117,910 families identified by local authorities as troubled. It made payments to local authorities for "turning around" the lives of 99% of these.

An evaluation commissioned by the Department could not find evidence of whether or not there had been any significant impact.

Additionally, publication of the Department's evaluation of the Troubled Families programme was delayed for more than a year, and we consider this delay to be unacceptable.

The Department was evasive when explaining the reasons for this delay, furthering the impression that government is reluctant to be open and transparent about the Troubled Families programme.

Further information

Image: iStockphoto