As an unglamorous policy the Troubled Families initiative was never going to attract much interest from lobby correspondents with their addiction to the soap opera aspect of politics. The only flicker of interest will be if there is some problem. The target is for the programme to have “turned round”. These are measured by children attending school and incidents of crime and anti social behaviour ceasing or (the hardest to achieve) an adult family member getting a job. The target is for 120,000 to have achieved progress in at least one of these areas by May next year. (It will then be expanded to reach another 400,000 families.)
So far nearly 40,000 of these families have been turned round. That’s up from 22,000 in November.
Earlier this month the Public Accounts Committee, under its publicity seeking chairman the Labour MP Margaret Hodge, predicted the target of 120,000 by next year would be missed – noting that “only 720 sustained job outcomes were recorded.” It’s now 3,133. This measure is for continuous employment of 26 weeks (for those who were on Job Seekers Allowance) or 13 weeks (for those who were on Incapacity Benefit.) Often these will be people who have not worked for many years – if ever before in their lives.
The broader point is that the PAC’s basis was that pessimism was crass.
They said TFI will miss the target without “increasing the rate at which they have been succeeding with their work with troubled families”. Their basis was that the programme at the half way stage had turned round 22,000 rather than 60,000.
Yet isn’t it obvious that results will take time? How could anyone be in a job for 26 weeks before the programme had been running for 26 weeks? How could there be a 60 per cent reduction in anti social behaviour over six months before the six months is up? Even identifying which families to help was a major task. Then the sustained effort is made to sort out the family. Then comes the period needed to show that progress has been made.
The programme is costing half a billion pounds. Which sounds like rather a lot until you consider that leaving these 120,000 families to remain “troubled” costs the taxpayer £9 billion a year. So the programme would need to miss it’s target by rather a lot to be poor value for money. In any event the PAC have not produced convincing evidence that the target will be missed at all.