Troubled Families success claims 'unbelievable'

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

A key government programme supposedly targeting the most troubled families in England is probably wasting millions of pounds a year and is working with the wrong families in the wrong way, according to a new report published today by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. The report, The Troubled Families Programme: the perfect social policy?, describes as ‘unbelievable’ government claims that the Troubled Families Programme has a 99 per cent success rate.

The Troubled Families Programme, launched in December 2011, claims to have turned around the lives of 120,000 of the most disadvantaged and excluded families in a remarkably short period of time. All of this has occurred against a backdrop of cuts to local services and welfare reforms, which have hit not just families but also the very organisations and councils that deliver services to them.

The report outlines ten reasons for concern, including:

  • The dodgy use of research data that confuses families experiencing multiple problems with those deemed to be causing trouble.
  • A spurious belief among Ministers and those running the Programme that the problems associated with troubled families cascade down the generations, despite there being little evidence that this is the case.
  • An ‘unbelievable’ 99 per cent success rate, which has been achieved by measures including recording families as being ‘turned around’ even when they have had no contact with the Programme.
  • Questionable claims about the cost of ‘troubled families’ and the potential savings to be achieved through the Programme.
  • Pressure on local authorities to talk up the success of the Programme in order to get access to further central government funding.

The report findings shine a light on the lack of evidence at the heart of a high-profile government programme. With the Troubled Families Programme currently being expanded to target a further 400,000 families, it raises important questions about whether taxpayers’ money is being used in an evidenced and effective way.

Report author Stephen Crossley, a doctoral student at Durham University researching the Troubled Families Programme, said:

‘The report traces the history of the programme and questions claims of success made by government and their problematic use of data. Quite simply, the reported successes of the Troubled Families Programme are too good to be true and require closer public and political scrutiny than they have received to date.’

Will McMahon, Deputy Director at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, said:

‘The Troubled Families programme is itself deeply troubling. Its claims to success – of lives turned around and savings made – are not credible. There is a crying need for this programme to be subjected to proper scrutiny. Parliament should investigate the Troubled Families Programme and the government's misleading claims about its success as a matter of urgency.’