The perfect Troubled Families programme

Stephen Crossley, PhD student in the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University, draws attention to the improbable 'success' of the Troubled Families programme.

By: 
Stephen Crossley
Date: 
Thursday, 19 March, 2015

If we are to believe the ‘troubled families’ figures released by the government last week, then this is a defining moment in the history of social policy.

Many of the headlines of national newspapers focused on the fact that 105,671 ‘troubled families’ have had their lives ‘turned around’ by the Troubled Families programme, established by the government in the wake of the 2011 riots.

But they appear to have missed the real story.

The Troubled Families programme, which was set up to help realise David Cameron’s ‘ambition’ to turn around the 120,000 most troubled families before the end of the current parliament, is on course to be a flawless social policy.

The government press release accompanying the news states that:

'There are 117,910 families targeted under the government’s Troubled Families programme. For rounding purposes, however, the target is usually referred to as 120,000'

The Troubled Families programme has apparently achieved a 100 per cent success rate in local authorities identifying exactly the same number of troubled families in their area as the indicative number provided by the government back in 2011.

The total number of families identified and worked with by local authorities comes to 117,910 despite the original number being based on area data rather than actual data on families, and being the mid-point in an estimated range of potential families, with the government caution that it ‘should therefore be treated as an indicative number’.

So, the government correctly estimated the number of ‘troubled families’ in each local authority area and every single local authority has identified each one of those ‘troubled families’ in its area and has begun working with them. And not one of those families moved to a different authority in over three years.

The practice on the ground, therefore, represents a perfect alignment with the information provided by politicians and civil servants in Whitehall, despite the data used being compiled for a different purpose and potentially very different families.

The figures also highlight that many local authorities have a 100 per cent success rate not just in identifying and working with ‘troubled families’ but in turning them around too. Manchester, for example has identified, worked with and turned around a staggering 2,385 ‘troubled families’. Not one has ‘slipped through the net’ or refused to engage with the programme.

Places as far apart as Liverpool, Suffolk and West Sussex have a perfect success rate in each ‘turning around’ all of their ‘troubled families. Over 50 other local authorities across the country have been similarly ‘perfect’ in their 'troubled families' work. There is not one single case amongst those councils where more ‘troubled families’ were identified or where a ‘troubled family’ has failed to have been turned around.

As a result of the perfect performance of the Troubled Families programme, it should come as no surprise that the government announced this week that the same ‘approach’ would be extended to other areas of public services, including employment, early years and social care. One can only look forward to the reporting of similarly perfect outcomes in these areas in the coming years….