Troubled families, troubled figures

17 March 2015

"More than 105,000 troubled families turned around saving taxpayers an estimated £1.2 billion"—Department for Communities and Local Government 10/03/2015

The Troubled Families programme (which only runs in England) has provided additional support to a number of families, but it's hard to measure how many of them have been 'turned around' as a direct consequence—as the government claimed. We don't know what the actual savings are.

Anti-social behaviour, out of work benefits and truancy

A 'troubled family' is one that meets at least three of four criteria: involvement in youth crime or anti-social behaviour, has adults on out of work benefits, has children playing truant or excluded from school, and costs the taxpayer a 'large amount'.

By the end of 2014 the government's programme had targeted 118,000 families for intervention.

A family is said to be 'turned around' if it meets one of two targets.

  • Having an adult in the household move off out of work benefits, and into continuous employment, or
  • All children in the household attending school consistently for one school year, and the family linked to less anti-social behaviour or youth crime.

Causality is complicated

The government says that 106,000 families had been 'turned around' by the end of February. 11,000 found continuous employment, and 95,000 met the anti-social behaviour/education target.

But some of these families might have met these targets even without additional government help, and other interventions would have taken place without the troubled families programme.

It's hard to tell how much the taxpayer is saving

The government claims that the programme has saved £1.2 billion across the country.

But that is based on a sample of families from just 7 of the 152 local authorities taking part in the scheme. This is not a large enough sample to say conclusively what the situation is for the country as a whole.

While most of the areas show gross savings per family in the 12 months after intervention between £6,000 and £10,000, in Salford savings were £18,000 and in Staffordshire they were £49,000 in the first year of the programme.

If the other 145 local authorities fall closer to the £6,000 to £10,000 figures than Salford or Staffordshire, then the total savings will be much lower than the £1.2 billion figure. These figures are gross, so subtracting the cost of intervention would lower savings further.

We asked the Department for Communities and Local Government (who run the Troubled Families Programme) for further detail on their calculations, but they were unable to tell us anything further.

We can't even say what proportion of these savings comes from the troubled families programme. Some of these families might have changed their behaviour (and therefore saved the taxpayer money) without the additional intervention.

The department has said that it considers the estimates to be on the low side. Not all of the savings made are included: they don't have an agreed cost for police call outs among other items, and some savings have yet to be realised. Also, the councils reporting back did not collect information on all services where savings could arise.

Some areas ended up spending more per family on things such as social services or housing, so it is possible that some of the services that weren't counted could have seen an increase in spending.

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