An expensive Conservative flagship policy has been condemned as a gross waste of taxpayers’ money in an official report. Government sources have repeatedly claimed that the Troubled Families Programme has “turned around” the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Yet such statements have been deemed false by a damning official evaluation.
The Troubled Families Programme was launched by David Cameron in the wake of widespread rioting in 2011. Cameron began the project by criticising ‘welfare culture’, saying it was:
essentially top-down and patronising – keeping people sealed in their circumstances with a weekly welfare cheque and rock-bottom expectations.
The new scheme would work alongside the Tories’ welfare cuts. The idea was that it would focus on families involved in crime or anti-social behaviour through targeted interventions and dedicated workers. In this way, Cameron felt able to say of his party’s approach:
we will be empowering… not making excuses for anyone, but supporting these families to take control of their own lives.
Alongside Eric Pickles, who led the programme, Cameron later stated that the scheme had saved the country £1.2 bn, claiming in June 2015 that:
I can announce today that almost all of the 117,000 families which the programme started working with have now been turned around – in terms of either school attendance, getting a job or both…
Yet a new official report by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) has negated all such claims. Despite being launched with an initial cost of £448m and then extended with a further £900m (making a total cost of more than £1.3bn), the NIESR states that there is:
no evidence the Troubled Families Programme had any significant impact on key objectives
The report goes on to state that the programme had:
no significant or systemic impact on outcomes related to employment, job seeking, school attendance, or anti-social behaviour
Not only is there cause for concern in such a complete waste of public money implemented during a period of grinding austerity, but there is also unease regarding government credibility. Why did the public statements of leading Tory politicians differ so vastly from the report’s findings?
One of the report’s authors, Jonathon Portes, wrote that the key issue is:
the government’s deliberate misrepresentation of the data and statistics … translated into a funding model that could have been designed to waste money.
He went on to describe David Cameron’s initial address to the Commons as:
a speech by the Prime Minister which misrepresented the facts
And he said Cameron’s claim that the lives of 105,000 families had been turned around was:
the blame rightly rests with ministers, including the former Prime Minister… and they should be held accountable… What on earth did the Treasury think it was doing allowing public money to be squandered like this?
A Conservative government lying, misleading the public and parliament — all while wasting public money? Whatever next?
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