An influential group of MPs says the Government has failed to prove the effectiveness of a costly programme designed to “turn around” tens of thousands of “troubled families” in England.
In a damning new report published on Monday, the Public Accounts Committee, a cross-party group of MPs, claim the Department for Communities and Local Government had overstated the performance of the Troubled Families Programme and savings to taxpayers.
The programme was launched in 2012 by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, with a commitment of £448 million in funding between 2012 and 2015. But MPs say families placed on the programme were considered ‘turned around’ on the basis of short-term outcomes rather than “long-term, sustainable change in families’ lives”, adding Tory minister’s claims of £1.2 billion in savings was an overstatement.
An evaluation of the programme was “unable to find consistent evidence” that it had any significant impact, in stark contrast to claims from Government ministers that the programme was “turning around” the lives of 120,000 troubled families.
And a ‘payment by results’ framework “led to some councils attempting to move families through the programme quickly, potentially at the expense of reduced quality of support”, the committee said.
Their report also criticises a delay of more than a year in publishing an initial evaluation into the programme, saying the embarrassing delay was “unacceptable”.
It added: “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.”
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.”