Troubled Families: follow the money

Will McMahon says that the government's claims that the programme is a success require close scrutiny

Will McMahon
Tuesday, 18 October, 2016

Last November the Centre published The Troubled Families Programme: the perfect social policy?, by Steven Crossley. The publication, based on several years of research, argued that government claims of successes of the controversial Troubled Families Programme ‘are too good to be true and require closer public and political scrutiny than they have received to date’.

In August this year, following a BBC Panorama investigation into the Programme, and claims that the evaluation had been suppressed, the Centre called for ‘the Public Accounts Committee and the Communities and Local Government Local Select Committee to investigate why £1.3 billion of public money has been spent on a strategy that has had no impact on any of its key objectives, and why the government felt able to claim a 99 per cent success rate’.

Yesterday evening's unannounced publication of the long 'held back' National Institute of Economic and Social Research’s (NIESR) evaluation of Programme, on the eve of the Public Accounts Committee inquiry into the scheme, might lead one to believe that the Department for Communities and Local Government sat on the damning evaluation for as long as it could to get all of the bad news out of the way in one go. I will leave you to make to make up your own mind about that one.

Today's newspaper headlines tell the story. The Times leads with 'Cameron wasted £1bn on troubled families'. The Daily Mail describes the independent evaluation of the report as 'scathing' and The Sun believes the scheme to be 'a flop'.

They are not as caustic, however, as one of those who led the research evaluation into the programme, nor the front-line worker, 'David', who contacted the Centre in response to the Crossley publication. He wished to remain anonymous because he did not want to risk losing his job.

Jonathon Portes, one of the authors of the NIESR evaluation today, writing in a personal capacity, argues ‘with the publication of the evaluation of the Troubled Families Programme, we have a perfect case study of how the manipulation and misrepresentation of statistics by politicians and civil servants – from the Prime Minister downwards – led directly to bad policy and, frankly, to the wasting of hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.’

I spoke to front-line worker 'David' earlier today. He said to me: ‘It is scary, child-like in its simplicity, either totally out of touch with reality, or an arrogant disregard for the truth, I suspect the latter, as such, I am concerned about even being suspected of providing information that names and discredits my employer for fear of reprisals.’

He added: 'Management involved at all levels with troubled families are under no illusion that the claimed success rates are in any way accurate or possible, they have to comply, as it’s the only way to access otherwise unavailable, desperately needed central funding.'

The Centre will be holding an event to discuss the origins, evaluation and prospects of the Troubled Families programme on Friday 20 January 2017, you are welcome to register here.