The £1.3bn government “troubled families” scheme to tackle entrenched social problems following the riots in 2011 has had no discernible impact on unemployment, truancy or criminality, an unpublished Whitehall report has found.
The official evaluation of the programme launched by David Cameron has not been published because it would be embarrassing to ministers, it has been claimed.
A senior civil servant, interviewed for an investigation by BBC’s Newsnight, described the report by independent consultancy Ecorys as damning.
The initial troubled families scheme, launched by Cameron in 2012, sought to “turn around the lives of the 120,000 most troubled households in the country” at a cost of about £400m.
A second wave of the scheme has since been launched to cover another 400,000 families at a further cost of £900m.
Cameron said he wanted to put “rocket boosters” into the system to underline the importance of strong parenting in preventing the kind of social problems that led to the riots in London and elsewhere.
It aimed to break the cycle of problems such as poor parenting, domestic abuse and other issues including institutional care identified by Dame Louise Casey as contributing to the transmission of problems through generations.
But a separate government-commissioned audit of the effectiveness of the programme has concluded differently.
According to Newsnight, the Ecorys report examined data from 56 local authorities and concluded there was “no discernible impact on the percentage of adults claiming out-of-work benefits either 12 or 18 months after starting on the programme” and “no obvious impact on the likelihood that adults were employed 12 or 18 months after starting on the programme”.
“Participation did not have any discernible impact on adult offending” seven to 18 months after the family was booked into the programme, it said.
Ecorys added: “Whilst it was more difficult to match the treatment and comparison groups when looking at child outcomes, the findings suggested that the programme also had no detectable impact on child offending.”
They also identified problems with the data quality and representativeness.
“The sample sizes that the national administrative data provided meant that it was feasible to detect impacts which were relatively small in magnitude.”
It said the success criteria were also vague – families could be deemed “turned around” even while the children were still persistently truant or committing crime, just so long as they did so less frequently than they had done before.
Councils were paid £3,200 for each family they signed up to the programme with a further payment of £800 when the family met certain criteria.
Nationally, 98.9% of the 118,000 families in the scheme were deemed “turned around” by the government.
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: “It is wrong to say that any report on Troubled Families has been suppressed. There were several strands to the evaluation work commissioned by the last government and there is not yet a final report.”
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