Now that the riots have happened I will make sure that we clear away the red tape and the bureaucratic wrangling, and put rocket boosters under this programme…
…with a clear ambition that within the lifetime of this Parliament we will turn around the lives of the 120,000 most troubled families in the country
(David Cameron, 15 August 2011)
On Wednesday of last week, The Guardian published a story, following a press release from DCLG that suggested that the government had met their ‘troubled families’ ‘target’ with 9 months to spare. The article stated:
Families have been brought into government programme nine months earlier than planned, local authority figures suggest
The government claims to have reached its target of starting to help 120,000 troubled families nine months earlier than planned.
There had been scepticism, including from the National Audit Office and public accounts committee (PAC) that central and local government would be able to identify as many as 120,000 families in need of help. The 120,000 needed to be identified between April 2012 and May 2015
This ‘success’ was also reported in an article in The Independent this morning (3/11/2014). Such ‘success’ in reaching the government’s target would indicate that the target had changed since the inception of the Troubled Families Programme (TFP).Then, the target was to ‘turn around’ the lives of these families by the end of the current parliament, not merely identify and start working with them, as David Cameron noted in his fightback speech following the 2011 riots, at the top of this post, and at the launch of the TFP in December 2011, below
We are committing £448 million to turning around the lives of 120,000 troubled families by the end of this Parliament.
As the piece referred to both the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and National Audit Office (NAO) reports, I revisited them to check that I hadn’t missed anything. The NAO report is very explicit that the ‘objective’ of the TFP is to ‘turn around the lives of 120,000 troubled families between 1 April 2012 and 31 May 2015’ (p4). This is repeated in different ways a number of times and the report also interestingly notes that DCLG have advised authorities to work with more than their indicative number of families in order to help ensure that they turn round the target number (p20). The PAC report is equally unequivocal
In 2012, DCLG and DWP each introduced separate programmes to help these families. DCLG’s Troubled Families programme, with a central government budget of £448 million, aims to ‘turn around’ all 120,000 families by May 2015.
We welcome the commitment shown by all those involved in the DCLG’s programme to achieve lasting improvement in the lives of 120,000 troubled families by May 2015. The target set requires each of the 152 local authorities in England to identify and then “turn around” families that meet the definition of a troubled family (p5, emphases added).
So, there is nothing in the reports that suggest that the target has changed and there has been no official announcement about a change of target. The article in The Guardian is also all the more surprising given that the paper has often been gently critical of the TFP and, in June of this year, they published an article which was highly critical of the potential of the programme to reach the target.
The source of the misunderstanding, then, might be traced to what I would argue is a duplicitous statement in the DCLG press release accompanying the latest publication of local authority figures. The press release states
The Communities Secretary on Wednesday (29 October 2014) welcomed the latest success of the scheme, which has now succeeded in reaching almost all of the hardest to help homes in the country that the Prime Minister pledged to help (emphases added).
Of course, the statement doesn’t state that the/a target has been met, but it does, at the very least, suggest a ‘success’ in meeting the Prime Minister’s ‘pledge’. The release also states that ‘99% of families targeted (are) being worked with by local teams’. The fact that, with around 9 months left to reach the actual target set by the Prime Minister the nearly three years ago, around 42% of the families have not been ‘turned around’ yet, didn’t stop Eric Pickles saying ‘It’s a triple-win; an amazing programme; and we’re going to extend its reach as far as possible’
The amount of positive spin being placed on this programme shouldn’t surprise us. I blogged earlier this year that the Prime Minister had too much political capital invested in the scheme to allow it to be viewed as a failure and we should remember that ‘troubled families’ were a ‘problem’ created and constructed by this government precisely because they believed that they could solve the ‘problem’. There have been numerous misrepresentations of data and figures both in the construction of the perceived problem and, now, in the extent of the government’s success in solving it. This is merely the latest in a long line of misinformation which plays a core part of this ‘policy racket’ and which, unfortunately, on this occasion, has been swallowed by two respected national newspapers.