On 25 November 2013 the Department of Communities and Local Government issued a Press Release, widely covered in the both print and broadcast media, claiming that the Troubled Families Programme (TFP) was ‘on track at the half-way stage’. It was accompanied by statistical data from each Local Authority, purporting to show that ‘18 months in to the 3-year programme over 62,000 families are being worked with and over 22,000 have been turned around: with children back in school; levels of youth crime and anti-social behaviour significantly reduced; and over 1,400 adults from some of England’s hardest-to-help households now in continuous work’.
In ‘Troubled Families’ in a Spin, Ruth Levitas argues that this is far from the truth. Rather than showing the success of the programme, the figures suggest that local authorities are using the ‘estimates’ of the numbers of families issued to them in late 2011 as targets in order to qualify for the attached funding, most of which is available for ‘attaching’ families to the programme rather than for measurable success. The original estimates, as demonstrated in the earlier analysis, There may be ‘Trouble’ Ahead: what we really know about those 120,000 Troubled’ families, are wildly unreliable.
The new figures are particularly difficult to interpret because local authorities are allowed to use different criteria in relation to two core concerns of the Troubled Families Programme (school absence, crime and anti-social behaviour). The numbers issued by the DCLG are therefore not comparable between authorities. The third core criterion is worklessness, and there has been very little success, according to these figures, in getting people in to continuous work. There is no data on what would have happened without intervention by the TFP against which ‘success’ can be measured.
Local authorities are also invited to use additional criteria in order to meet their target figures. An FOI request for details of local variation has been refused (along with other FOI requests relating to the programme). The DCLG has further said that these are ‘not official statistics’, which means they are not subject to scrutiny by the UK Statistics Authority.