A flagship Government programme to turn around troubled families was slammed on Tuesday after a report found “no evidence” it had worked.
The Committee of Public Accounts also accused the Government of “evasion” on David Cameron’s scheme, and said its impact had been “overstated”,
The report said families had been reported to be ‘turned around’ on the basis of short-term outcomes rather than “long-term, sustainable change in families’ lives”, while its £1.2 billion of claimed savings was untrue.
The initiative was launched in April 2012 with initial central government funding of £448m between 2012 and 2015.
It followed a commitment in 2011 by the then Prime Minister to benefit the 120,000 most troubled families in England by 2015.
But the report said the delay of more than in year in publishing an evaluation of the programme was “unacceptable”.
“The Department was evasive when explaining the reasons for this delay, furthering the impression that government is reluctant to be open and transparent about the Troubled Families programme”, the report said.
The committee urged the Government to review the initiative, which it said “led to some councils attempting to move families through the programme quickly, potentially at the expense of reduced quality of support”.
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:
“Government officials might be inclined to consider our comments on the delay in publishing its Troubled Families evaluation as a slap on the wrist about Whitehall bureaucracy.
“Let me assure them that given the ambitions for this programme, the implications for families and the significant sums of money invested, it is far more serious than that.
“But it is particularly important with a new initiative that there is transparency so that the Government can learn and adapt the programme.
“The Department has undermined any achievements the Government might legitimately claim for its overall work in this area.
“In particular it was a mistake to use short-term criteria as the measure for successfully ‘turning around’ families, many of whom are grappling with long-term social problems.
“A tick in a box to meet a Prime Ministerial target is no substitute for a lasting solution to difficulties that may take years to properly address.
“We would also question the suitability of the Government’s ‘payment buy results’ model, which similarly risks incentivising quantity over quality
“The Department has now committed to providing Parliament with an annual report on progress with the Troubled Families programme, starting in March next year.
“For this to be meaningful Government must be far clearer about the benefits that can be directly attributed to the public investment in it.
“Only then can Parliament and others properly assess the value for money of this programme and its merits as a model to bring about lasting change in the lives of those families it is intended to support.”
A Government spokesman said:
“As the PAC report recognises, the Troubled Families programme enabled local authorities to expand and transform the way local services work with families.
“But of course, there will always be lessons to learn and we have already made significant improvements to the second stage of the programme.
“We will look carefully at the evidence to find out how we can improve the programme further to help some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”