The Government has ‘overstated’ the effectiveness of the program designed to deal with disadvantaged families and has been ‘evasive’ in its dealings with MPs, committee report says.
The Troubled Families programme was established in 2012 by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) with the aim of ‘turning around’ the lives of 120,000 disadvantaged families.
The Government argued that by helping these families they could reduce the financial burden they placed on public services.
However, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has published a report today which accuses Whitehall of overstating the programme’s success through the use of terminology and its method for estimating financial savings.
The DCLG considered families to be 'turned around' on the basis of short-term outcomes rather than ‘long-term, sustainable change in families' lives’, the PAC found. The committee also reported the Government’s claim the programme had saved £1.2bn was an ‘overstatement’.
An official evaluation of the programme was ‘unable to find consistent evidence’ it had any significant impact, the committee concluded.
The PAC report also chastised the Government for delaying the publication of the programme’s phase one evaluation, which was commissioned to assess the programme's impact, cost-effectiveness and implementation, and being ‘evasive’ in explaining why.
‘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,’ it said.
The DCLG should also review its use of a 'payment by results' framework for the programme, the committee urged. It ‘led to some councils attempting to move families through the programme quickly, potentially at the expense of reduced quality of support.’
‘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,’ said Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC.
‘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.’
‘The Department has now committed to providing Parliament with an annual report on progress with the Troubled Families programme, starting in March next year,’ Ms Hillier continued.
‘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.’
Senior civil servants defended the programme last October, telling the PAC there had been improvements in 116,000 families but it was difficult to prove ‘beyond statistical doubt’ that success could be ascribed to the programme.
A Government spokesman said: 'As the PAC report recognises, the Troubled Families programme enabled local authorities to expand and transform the way local services work with families.
'But of course, there will always be lessons to learn and we have already made significant improvements to the second stage of the programme.
'We will look carefully at the evidence to find out how we can improve the programme further to help some of the most vulnerable people in our society.'