Flagship Troubled Families programme had ‘no significant or systemic impact’

The Troubled Families programme, a flagship initiative of the last government, had no significant impact, the government’s own evaluation has found.

The programme, launched in 2012, cost an estimated £1bn, including £450m from central government, and has helped an estimated 160,000 families.

But an evaluation of the programme said that, among key outcomes such as employment, benefit receipt, school attendance, safeguarding and child welfare, there was no “consistent evidence” that the programme had any “significant or systematic impact”. Instead, their outcomes were not significantly different from a comparison group of families.

On the other hand, families were notably more likely to report increases in their confidence, optimism about being able to cope with the future, and financial capability.

The evaluation also found “wide variation” among how local authorities implemented the programme. There were some individual areas of good practice, but there was no consistency in how councils recruited and trained their workers, set caseload sizes, or exited families.

Beyond individual areas of good practice, there was no “deep and sustained improvement” in achieving partnership working between organisations.

There were also no clear goals for areas such as mental illness, domestic abuse and parenting, and little progress in addressing families’ health issues where this was a concern.

However, the report noted that the programme had helped boost local capacity for family intervention and data gathering, and the partnership between the DCLG and the DWP had led to better joint working with Jobcentre Plus.

The government will now roll out a new Troubled Families programme, which aims to support 400,000 families by 2020.

It said it had learned a number of lessons from the previous programme, including allowing more local discretion in the eligibility criteria and giving greater importance to physical and mental health problems for children and adults.

It added said the programme would require a “significant culture change” for all authorities by making getting into work “an aspiration for all families”.

In an op-ed on the DCLG website at the weekend, communities minister Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth said: “As a pioneering programme, working with complex families in this way and on this scale for the first time, we never expected to get everything right and have never claimed to have done so.

“We believe this programme has transformed the lives of thousands of families. The councils and frontline staff who have put it into practice should be pleased with the work they have done.”

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