Clause 3

Welfare Reform and Work Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 7:15 pm on 15th September 2015.

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Support for troubled families: reporting obligation

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I beg to move amendment 4, in clause 3, page 2, line 46, at end insert—

‘(2A) The matters by which the progress made by a household that receives relevant support shall be measured under subsection (1)(b) include whether a member of the household is in employment.”

This requires one of the factors which is used to measure whether a household receive support is making progress is whether or a not a member of the household is employed.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter Conservative, South West Devon

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 5, in clause 3, page 3, line 6, at end insert—

‘(4A) A report prepared under this section must include information about the number of households receiving support where a member of the household, who had not previously been in employment during the last 12 month, has entered employment.”

To require the report on support for troubled households to specify the number of households receiving support where a member of the household has become employed.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

We now deal with the troubled families programme, for which there is widespread support. As Ministers have acknowledged, it has its roots in the family intervention projects introduced by the previous Labour Government. The pioneering Dundee families project, established in 1995, has been particularly influential. The approach has all-party support, and we welcome the proposal in the clause to introduce a new and more formalised reporting obligation.

The troubled families programme as it currently stands was given a big push by the riots in summer 2011 and was launched by the Prime Minister later that year. Louise Casey was appointed director general in November 2011. The troubled families programme is in touch with a lot of agencies: with housing departments because of rent arrears; with social services about the wellbeing of children; with police and youth offending teams; sometimes with drug and alcohol services; with education departments over school non-attendance and exclusion; and with the health service. All of that means that the families we are talking about impose a high cost on the taxpayer. They are also often high-harm to themselves and to others. Outcomes for children in those families tend to be poor, and many are on the borderline of being taken into care. A solution has to involve all family members and a multiplicity of agencies, so inter-agency planning delivery is the key to the effectiveness of the programme.

The goal announced in 2011 was to turn around 120,000 troubled families in England by this year, aiming to turn around the patterns repeated in generations of poor parenting—abuse, violence, drug misuse, antisocial behaviour and crime—with the Government investing some £4,000 per family over three years on a payment by results basis. The key element of the programme—this  was distinctive to the family intervention projects as well—is that each family has an assigned caseworker responsible for turning their fortunes around and bringing together the efforts of all the agencies working with that family to maximise the chances of success.

The official evaluation, published last July, gave us some detailed information. Some 49% of all families in scope are lone-parent families. The under-18 conception rate is only 2%—rather contrary to the stereotypes we sometimes hear. Some 90% of the adults in the families involved have committed no criminal offence. Only 3% have been treated for alcohol dependency, and it is the same proportion for drug dependency. But 46% of households have an adult or adults suffering a mental health problem, and 33% of the children have mental health problems—that is a particularly troubling figure. Some 32% of the adults and 20% of the children have a long-standing physical illness or disability. Some 74% are workless households. For 83%, at least one person receives out-of-work benefits; 27%are in rent arrears; and 21% are at risk of eviction from their homes.

To be included in the programme, a troubled family has to be either involved in crime and antisocial behaviour, where actual triggers are identified, or have children that are not in school, or have an adult on out-of-work benefits. Any family meeting one of the first two of those criteria and the third are automatically in the programme. Local authorities can then add in other families on the basis of their local knowledge and their discretion.

When it is claimed that a family has been turned around, that means they must either have an adult in the household who has left out-of-work benefits and been in employment for at least three months, or that all the children in the household have been attending school consistently for a school year and the family’s involvement in antisocial behaviour or youth crime has been reduced.

The point that we are picking out particularly in amendment 4—I know that you were eager to hear about this, Mr Streeter—is that of the 105,000 out of 118,000 families in the programme who we were told in the figures published in March had been turned around, only 11,000 families had been turned around on the basis that they had found continuous employment.

The Full Fact website published a rather sceptical assessment of the Government’s claims about the troubled families programme. It was headed, “Troubled families, troubled figures”. Full Fact was particularly sceptical about the claim that £1.2 billion had been saved across the country as a result of the programme, and its scepticism is probably warranted.

Clause 3 introduces an annual obligation on the Secretary of State to report, but it does not specify the criteria against which progress will be measured. The purpose of our amendments is to ensure that at least the extent to which members of the families have secured jobs is one of the items on which progress should be assessed. Amendment 4 would require that whether family members are in employment is one of the progress factors to be considered, and amendment 5 would require that the number of previously workless households in the programme in which an unemployed person has got a job should be specified in the annual report.

It is genuinely a very difficult task—there is no question about that—to support people in these families into work. David Holmes from the Family Action organisation gave evidence to us last Thursday and has talked about that difficulty, and I would love to speak about his evidence to us, as well as about some of the other points that he has made.

On Thursday, we also heard from a senior officer of Manchester City Council. A year ago, I visited the Working Well project in Manchester, which has been supported by the Minister’s Department and the Treasury to see whether it is possible to do better than the Work programme has done for people on employment and support allowance. It has used the caseworker approach.

However, there is wide evidence that the approach in the troubled families programme, which has achieved some very good things, has not worked for employment. Getting the right lead family workers, who can integrate services from a variety of agencies, works very well, but the problem has been that generally, and not surprisingly, those lead workers have not been very good at getting people into jobs. That is where we think the focus needs to be switched to, and that is the reason for these amendments.

I suggest to the Minister that it is crucial that the annual report contains additional information about people who have got into jobs, not least so that really effective practice on the part of authorities such as Manchester, which we heard from last week, can be identified and taken up more widely. That will not happen unless the data on employment are available.

I know that the Minister will grasp the significance of these amendments, and I hope that she will also accept them.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions) 7:30 pm, 15th September 2015

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his contribution and for the focus on the troubled families programme, because it has been designed to turn around the lives of families with challenges. In fact, the first troubled families programme turned around the lives of more than 116,000 families. That is not to say that those hardest-to-help families’ complex needs and multiple problems can be resolved overnight.

Amendment 5 would require information to be included in the Secretary of State’s report on the number of households receiving support where a member of that household progresses into employment following a period of 12 months out of work prior to engagement with the troubled families programme. Getting parents and young people into work is at the heart of the troubled families programme. To reflect that, there are specific progress measures on continuous employment, as set out in the programme’s operating framework.

As with the original programme, we expect the majority of families in the new troubled families programme to be claiming out-of-work benefits. Due to the complexity of the problems they face, they will also be a long way from the labour market. We know that getting a parent into work can have a transformative effect on the whole family. Any Committee member who has any engagement with constituents who have been involved in the programme will recognise the impact on families of the measures and interventions, which can really be transformative. That is what such programmes are about.

In recognition of that, the programme aims to support families with a multitude of problems where adult family members are currently out of work, irrespective  of the length of time they have been unemployed. Information on how the programme has supported adults into employment is therefore already an important part of the troubled families programme’s independent national evaluation, which will be the basis of the Secretary of State’s annual report to Parliament.

On amendment 4, clause 3 provides that, at the start of each financial year, the Secretary of State shall issue a notice “specifying the matters” by reference to which progress will be measured and reported on in the following financial year. The amendment would place employment as a progress measure into statute. We have purposely not set out a progress measure for the programme within the clause, so as to ensure that the programme remains flexible enough to respond to families’ emerging needs and to reflect future Government priorities. The right hon. Member for East Ham mentioned that the programmes are varied geographically, and in respect of the local authorities involved and the multi-agency work that is taking place. Ensuring that the programme can remain flexible to respond to the needs of those families is therefore vital.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

The Minister emphasised that getting people into employment is at the heart—I think those were her words—of the troubled families programme. I welcome her assurance, but that should surely then always be in the criteria against which the programme is assessed.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions)

The full employment measure, which we have discussed, is outlined in an annual report. This is about the troubled families programme, which already has an independent national evaluation. That will be the basis of the Secretary of State’s annual report to Parliament. We take the view that we are already reporting on those measures. Different information that can be used to measure progress may, of course, become available during the lifetime of the programme. The annual notice issued by the Secretary of State will accommodate that information and will be based on the operating framework for the programme.

The current financial framework includes progress measures for employment, and therefore the first report to Parliament will include information on the number of adults in families supported by the programme who have moved into continuous employment. We believe that that is covered and that the amendments are therefore not necessary, so I urge the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw them.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I am glad that the point will be covered in the first report, but I am rather puzzled as to why the Minister is not willing to say that it should be covered in all reports, given the centrality of employment to the goals of the programme. Nevertheless, I am grateful for her response and will not press the amendment to a vote. I hope that, in practice, we will find employment featuring prominently in each of those reports in each of the years they appear.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I beg to move amendment 6, in clause 3, page 3, line 6, at end insert—

‘(4A) A report prepared under this section must include information about the total value of expenditure directed at supporting relevant households by—

(a) local government,

(b) central government, and

(c) government agencies.”

To require the report on support for troubled households to specify how much has been spent to support targeted households by different parts of government.

I will not take up much of the Committee’s time on amendment 6, but there is one other set of data that we need to make a full evaluation of this programme: how much is being spent on it? As I understand it, the central Government allocation is £4,000 per participating family but, of course, other resources are also being allocated to those families. In particular, many local authorities, because it makes such a big difference to them if the families can be set on a new and positive path, are supplementing the resources provided by central Government, and other agencies are also contributing. We need to know the total value of spending on those households by the relevant agencies, and amendment 6 simply requires the report produced under clause 3 to include that vital piece of information.

The Government say that the 120,000 or so troubled families in the current programme cost the state £9 billion a year. Ideally, we would like to have a set of figures that add up at the beginning to £9 billion being spent on those families but that then fall as the programme starts to take effect. The announcement last March, on which the Full Fact website was rather sceptical, claimed that £1.2 billion had been saved as a result of the programme but, to secure a robust evaluation of the programme and to grasp the impact of those families on the Exchequer and the effect of the programme, there is no alternative to compiling the figures required by amendment 6, which would hopefully decline year on year if the programme is having the impact that we all want.

This is my final point, Mr Streeter, because I have a shrewd suspicion that you may not call a stand part debate on the clause today. The Local Government Association has made the point to us that, to minimise additional work in producing the report required by clause 3, data contained in the report must, so far as is practicable, be derived from any relevant official statistics, the national impact study and family progress data. What is the Minister’s response to that specific proposal?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions)

Again, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. Obviously, the troubled families programme is focused on better outcomes through the more efficient use of resources. It is therefore right that the primary focus of the report to Parliament is on the outcomes for those families.

Local authorities have been given the freedom to shape their own local programmes with their own local public service partners. In exchange, the Government have asked local authorities to provide information that will enable us to assess the impact of those programmes, which of course includes an understanding of what is being spent on families and the savings being achieved across local public services. That information on costs is part of the troubled families programme’s independent national evaluation, which I have touched on and which will also be published as the basis of the Secretary of State’s report. Information on Government spend on the programme is published annually in the Department for Communities and Local Government accounts. On that basis, it is not necessary to expand the scope of the duty.

There are a couple of points on the £9 billion estimate, which was based on the best information available at the time for the purpose of designing the original troubled families programme. The figure was the result of an analysis of a range of spending on troubled families by central Government Departments. The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the £1.2 billion figure and the Full Fact website. That figure comes from a report published during the previous Parliament, and it is simply an indicative figure that suggests what potential savings could be made if average savings were replicated across local authorities.

It is fair to say that, because the information on costs identified in the independent national evaluation of the troubled families programme is already published, and will continue to be published—there is a line in the DCLG accounts, too—we do not believe we need to expand the scope of the duty. I therefore urge the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 7:45 pm, 15th September 2015

I am grateful to the Minister. When the evaluation came out in March, the then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government did not speak in the circumspect terms used by the Minister. He claimed that £1.2 billion had been saved.

Full Fact points out, however, that that was based on just seven of the 152 local authorities that took part. Most areas showed gross savings per family of between £6,000 and £10,000, but in Salford savings were £18,000 and in Staffordshire they were claimed to be £49,000. The average was taken from those seven and grossed up to the 152, with the result being the £1.2 billion figure that Full Fact is understandably rather sceptical about. Ministers claim the figures to be savings with some authority, but it would be advisable to provide the more robust data that underpin the figures and estimates before such a claim is made. I do not propose to press the amendment to a Division, but the next time figures are claimed for savings resulting from the programme, I hope we have a more robust basis than that used in March.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

In my earlier remarks I raised a question for the Minister about the request from the Local Government Association that information should be taken from existing sources where possible to minimise the amount of work. Is she in a position to comment on that, or perhaps will she drop me a line?

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions)

I cannot comment at this stage, but I will be very happy to take that offline and drop the right hon. Gentleman a line.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Guy Opperman.)

Adjourned till Thursday 17 September at half-past Eleven o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

WRW 24 The Riverside Group Ltd (Riverside)

WRW 25 TPAS

WRW 26 Carers UK

WRW 27 National Autistic Society

WRW 28 The Abbeyfield Society

WRW 29 StepChange

WRW 30 Motor Neurone Disease Association

WRW 31 Le Personne Benevolent Trust

WRW 32 St Mungo’s Broadway

WRW 33 Residential Landlords Association