We’ve always known that these families cost an extraordinary amount of money … but now we’ve come up with the actual figures. Last year the state spent an estimated £9 billion on just 120,000 families … that is around £75,000 per family.
(David Cameron, Troubled Families Programme launch speech, 15 December 2011)
The publication of a DCLG report and the announcement last week that the Troubled Families Programme (TFP) had seen ‘More than 105,000 troubled families turned around saving taxpayers an estimated £1.2 billion’ has been subjected to a bit of scrutiny over the past few days. Jonathan Portes has posted a pretty comprehensive blog here, the Mirror have covered the announcement in an online piece and I’ve done a couple of short posts here and here. But there are a few things which weren’t announced last week or which were not included in the report which also deserve a little bit of scrutiny. So here goes.
Firstly, the £1.2 billion ‘savings’ figure never features in the DCLG report The Benefits of the Troubled Families Programme to the Taxpayer (hereafter called the Benefits report),or the accompanying Methodology report. In fact, the Methodology report states very clearly on p4 that ‘care should be taken when directly comparing results between local authorities’ and ‘the results reported are not results from the national programme as a whole’. If the advice to take care with the figures had been taken, the figure of £1.2 billion ‘savings’ surely wouldn’t have been featured so heavily in the press release and there must be a very good reason it didn’t feature in either official publication. Two other figures which are mentioned early in the press release don’t feature in either publication. The ‘average gross cost saving to the taxpayer per ‘troubled family’ is identified as £12,000 in the press release but in the report it is stated as £11,200. The press release also states that the average cost of intervention is £5,493 per family, but this figure doesn’t appear anywhere in the report either, which puts the figure at £5,214 (p4). In the DCLG TFP Financial Framework document published in 2012, it is estimated that the cost of intervention was expected to be around £10,000 (p7). This discrepancy or ‘saving’ was not highlighted last week.
When the number of families ‘turned around’ is reported so precisely, it appears strange that less ‘care’ is taken with the reporting of the financial elements of the programme. It should also be noted that the £1.2 billion figure is a gross saving – it doesn’t take into account the total cost of the interventions, which, if we take the figure in the official publication rather than the press release, comes to around £550 million. So, taking a leap of unjustified faith with these figures, the best estimate of the net savings at the current time, without any counterfactual, and assuming that every positive change that took place within ‘troubled families’ lives was directly attributable to the work of the TFP, is around £650 million.
When David Cameron launched the TFP in 2011 he said the government had ‘come up with the actual figures’ for how much ‘troubled families’ cost. He said it was £9 billion – around £75,000 per family. Neither of these figures are mentioned in the Benefits report of the accompanying Methodology report. In early 2013, DCLG published two reports – The Fiscal Case for Working with Troubled Families: Analysis and Evidence on the Costs of Troubled Families to Government (which broke down the £9 billion figure into different policy areas) and The Cost of Troubled Families (which includes case studies of local authority estimates of the cost of their ‘troubled families’). Neither of these two documents are mentioned or referenced in the most recent reports, nor is anyone directed to them via any of the webpages related to last week’s announcements and publications.
The Benefits report suggests that, across the seven local authority areas used for the analysis, the average cost of the ‘troubled families’ they worked with (in the 12 months prior to intervention) was just £26,200 (p4). So the new ‘actual’ figure is around a third of the first ‘actual’ figure of £75,000 that the Prime Minister gave when he launched the TFP.
Another surprising omission form the information provided in the recent reports is the fact that two of the seven ‘exemplar’ local authorities who provided data for the Benefits report also provided costings for the Costs of Troubled Families report released in January 2013.
In Manchester, back in 2013, the city council estimated that they spent, on average around £74,000 per year on their ‘troubled families’ (p32) and predicted around £32,600 of savings from the TFP (p5). The figures released last week suggested that in the three years of the programme, the cost of ‘troubled families’ in Manchester in the 12 months prior to TFP intervention had been £58,238 in year 1, £37,075 in year 2 and £27, 793 in year 3. The average saving had been £6,240 in year 1, £7,632 in year 2 and £9,530 in year three (Annex A of the Benefits report). I’d argue these are quite substantial differences with neither the cost being anywhere near as high as anticipated (in year 2 it’s around half the expected cost and in year 3, just over a third) and the savings also, understandably, being severely lower than predicted.
In 2013, Wandsworth predicted savings of around £29,000 (p5) out of an expected cost of ‘troubled families’ of £32,000 (p27). The figures released last week suggested that ‘troubled families’ in Wandsorth cost on average only £17,895 in the 12 months prior to TFP intervention and the estimated savings were only £6,528 per ‘troubled family’ turned around (Annex A of the Benefits report).
But none of this is mentioned in any of the information released by DCLG last week, when it is surely highly relevant to understanding how the programme is progressing, or not progressing, in terms of its expected savings.
These are, effectively non-announcements – pieces of information which one could argue should have been published, discussed and explained or laid out for deliberation and scrutiny, if necessary. And it would have been very easy to do this, given that the independent evaluation has not reported any substantial findings yet and if the government hadn’t been so intent on telling everyone how perfect this programme is. Anyone would think the Prime Minister had made some kind of personal commitment to ‘turn around’ the lives of these families before the imminent election, saving bucket loads of ‘taxpayer’s money’ and transforming public service delivery at the same time…..