Troubled families targets may be missed unless delivery speeds up

04 April 2014

The Public Accounts Committee publishes its 51st report into Programmes to help families facing multiple challenges, HC 668.

The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

"The two ‘troubled families’ programmes are designed to turn around the lives of some of the most disadvantaged families in our society, at the same time as delivering savings for the taxpayer.

We welcome the commitment shown by both departments involved in delivering the programmes.

However, we are concerned that the Government is on course to miss its targets of ‘turning around’ the lives of 120,000 troubled families and moving 22% of those referred to its employment programme into work by March 2015.

At the time of our hearing, DCLG’s success rate was 13% behind its own expectations of performance. By October 2013 it had achieved lasting improvements in the lives of 22,000 families, leaving a further 98,000 to be ‘turned around’ by May 2015.

More worryingly, DWP’s programme had achieved only 720 sustained employment outcomes by September 2013, just 4% of the programme’s expected performance.

Both departments have got to speed up the rate at which they are succeeding in their work.

Lower than expected performance has partly resulted from the Government’s baffling decision to implement two separate programmes for troubled families, which resulted in confusion and unnecessary duplication.

Another challenge has been the departments’ reliance on individual local authorities and private providers to deliver outcomes. There have been big variations in performance, which put achieving the programmes’ objectives at risk.

The departments must ensure that performance in each local authority, and by each contractor, is scrutinised to properly manage the contracts giving appropriate support where appropriate, but also imposing sanctions where necessary.

We now need to see clear improvements in performance against targets and real cash savings made from these programmes. And the Government needs a clear plan for the delivery of the next phase of the Troubled Families programme, starting in 2015.

These actions are essential not only to turn around the lives of the troubled families involved, but also to deliver savings and demonstrate value for money."

Margaret Hodge was speaking as the Committee published its 51st Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from DCLG, DWP, Leeds City Council, Liverpool City Council and Family Action, examined DCLG and DWP’s programmes to help families facing multiple challenges.

Conclusions and Recommendations

  • In 2006, the Government estimated that there were 120,000 families in England facing multiple challenges, such as unemployment and poor housing. It subsequently included other challenges, such as crime and antisocial behaviour. The estimated cost to the taxpayer of providing services to support these families is £9 billion a year, of which £8 billion is spent reacting to issues and £1 billion in trying to tackle them. 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. DWP’s Families with Multiple Problems programme, with a budget of £200 million, seeks to move 22% of those joining the programme into employment by March 2015. Both programmes look to support families rather than individuals and to join up the activities of local service providers, who receive payment-by-results. DCLG pays local authorities up to £4,000 for each family that they have “turned around”. The judgement is based on ensuring children attend school, reducing youth crime and antisocial behaviour, and supporting adults into continuous employment. DWP pays contractors for tackling the barriers that clients face to finding employment, such as reducing antisocial behaviour and domestic violence, and for clients obtaining a steady job.
  • The good practice evident in DCLG’s Troubled Families programme, demonstrates how central and local government agencies can work together effectively. 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. Each local authority has signed up to achieving real change for a sufficient number of troubled families for DCLG to meet the overall target of 120,000 families. Local authorities are taking action to bring services together, for example, by combining databases maintained by different agencies to help identify families. In addition, the programme has helped to galvanise a range of local services around families and to provide a single person to support families’ needs, and navigate their way around all the relevant services rather than the families having to deal with each agency individually. We also commend Louise Casey CB, Director General of the DCLG’s Troubled Families programme, for her leadership of, and commitment to, the programme. 
    Recommendation: DCLG should identify good practice on how central and local agencies work together on its Troubled Families programme to secure a joined up approach to local delivery. It should share this widely across the public sector, particularly in areas such as the health and social care sectors, where effective delivery at a local level relies on the coordination of multiple agencies.
  • The two programmes to help troubled families were designed and implemented separately, resulting in confusion and a lack of integration, and contributing to lower than expected performance during the early stages. There was no clear rationale for the simultaneous introduction of two separate programmes, which focused on addressing similar issues of crime, antisocial behaviour and employment amongst a section of the population with similar characteristics. Both departments introduced their programmes quickly, taking no longer than seven months to move from design to implementation. And both had innovative elements, such as payments for specified outcomes and for making progress towards employment. However, the integration of the programmes at the design phase was poor, leading to confusion, and contributing to the low number of referrals to the DWP’s programme. Both departments have taken steps to improve how their programmes work together. Specifically, 150 advisers from Jobcentre Plus have been seconded to 94 local authorities to provide practical support to local authorities, to help move family members closer to the labour market. Performance is now improving as a result. 
    Recommendation: The Government should learn lessons from the approach taken in this case to ensure that there is integrated policy making and implementation within, and across departments. The Government should agree a clear plan for delivery of the next phase of DCLG’s Troubled Families programme, from 2015.
  • The departments will not meet their targets without increasing the rate at which they have been succeeding in their work with troubled families. When the Comptroller and Auditor General reported in December 2013, both programmes were around half-way through their life. DCLG’s programme had succeeded with 22,000 families in the 19-month period to October 2013, leaving a further 98,000 families to be “turned around” by May 2015. DWP’s programme had achieved only 720 sustained employment outcomes by September 2013, around 4% of the programme’s expected performance. To meet their targets, the departments are reliant on individual local authorities and private providers delivering the necessary outcomes. But there are considerable variations in performance between local authorities and between providers, which put achieving the programmes’ objectives at risk.
    Recommendation: The departments must ensure that performance in each local authority, and by each contractor, is scrutinised to properly manage the contracts giving appropriate support where appropriate, but also imposing sanctions where necessary.
  • Efficient and effective data sharing is required for the programmes to be delivered successfully. Government departments, local authorities and providers have experienced difficulties in sharing data, which have affected the programmes’ performance. We welcome the progress that the departments have made in tackling hurdles to sharing data. For example, DWP can now send its data on benefit recipients to DCLG to match names to its Troubled Families programme, and it has sent supporting guidance to local authorities to provide practical support. Data sharing is critical to identifying the families most in need of the support available within the two programmes, including data on their location and the issues they face. While local authorities are looking to share data, variations in local practice persist, and other organisations, such as those in the health sector, may be less willing or able to share information. The bodies concerned need to overcome the cultural, statutory and regulatory hurdles which cause data to be withheld unnecessarily. 
    Recommendation: The departments should develop and disseminate clear guidance to local authorities. This should set out the data that local authorities can legally share and what practical steps they can take to overcome cultural barriers to sharing data among local agencies involved in delivery, alongside helping local authorities to meet their remaining legal responsibilities for data protection and confidentiality.
  • The departments need to demonstrate that the programmes deliver value for money. The departments’ programmes were predicated on securing financial as well as social benefits. For example, DCLG estimated that its programme would deliver a saving of £2.7 billion, if successfully implemented. DWP estimated that its programme could generate £2 in fiscal and social benefits for every £1 spent. Both departments have published details of progress, in terms of the numbers of families turned around and individuals that have moved towards employment. However, neither has monitored or assessed the financial savings and wider benefits that their programmes have delivered to date, such as the extent to which local authorities have restructured their services. Demonstrating value for money is essential for Parliament, the public and those involved in running the programmes locally, to have confidence in these and any future programmes of this nature. We therefore welcome DCLG’s development of a methodology to calculate the costs and benefits of its programme, which it needs to finalise and make available to local authorities as a matter of urgency. Reporting on the financial and non financial benefits of the programmes will improve not only the transparency of the programmes’ performance, but will help support the case for future investment in this area. 
    Recommendation: Both departments should publish, alongside details of the programmes’ progress against their respective targets, details of the wider benefits and financial savings that they have identified. They should make clear what proportion of any financial savings are cash savings.

Further information

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