Misleading to claim Troubled Families programme worked

The flagship Troubled Families Programme prioritised ‘tick in a box’ results over delivering a meaningful impact and suffered from severe delays in publishing its evaluation, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has found.

The programme, which was announced by David Cameron following the 2011 riots and ran until 2015, was targeted at helping 117,910 families address problems including truancy, anti-social behaviour and unemployment.

The DCLG claimed that it had achieved 99% success in ‘turning around’ these families, but the PAC report into the programme argued that this was because it focused on short-term outcomes instead of long-term, sustainable change.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, said: “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.”

The department’s own evaluation of the programme admitted that there was no evidence it had had any “significant or systematic impact” when the families were compared to a similar group.

The evaluation report was itself delayed from October 2015 to 2016, something the PAC said gave an especially bad impression because of the programme’s importance as a flagship measure.

Hillier added: “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.”

The DCLG claimed that the initiative had saved £1.2bn, which the PAC said was an inaccurate estimate because it excluded the costs of delivering the programme.

Furthermore, the programme was founded on a payment by results basis, with councils receiving payments for successfully ‘turning around’ families.

The PAC found that this had “encouraged perverse behaviour” from some local authorities, including accelerating families through the programme; failing to support families to deal with deep-rooted problems; and claiming results for families who had not originally been identified as targets or who were at the margins of the programme.

Despite the criticism, the DCLG has promised £920m to continue the programme until 2020. The PAC recommended that in the second phase of the programme, the DCLG should develop better methods for evaluating the long-term impact of the programme and the savings achieved; publish prompt and meaningful evaluations of the programme’s results; and review its payment by results approach.

A DCLG spokesperson 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.”

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