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Sunak backs 'wonders' of Troubled Families to continue

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Local government minister Rishi Sunak has given his full backing to the continuation of work under the Troubled Families programme beyond 2020, amid concerns among councils that vital funding for support could end.

Responding to a question on the future of the programme during the final evidence session of the housing, communities and local government committee’s inquiry in to children’s services yesterday, Mr Sunak said further data on its effectiveness is due to be published shortly but that this suggests the programme “is doing very well”.

The Troubled Families programme was in 2015 allocated £920m for its second phase to help 400,000 families, having been launched in 2012. However, the government is yet to confirm whether funding will continue after 2020.

Mr Sunak said the chancellor Philip Hammond would have the final say on future funding as part of the spending review but added he and housing and communities secretary James Brokenshire are “very keen” for there to be a “successor” programme so current work can continue.

Mr Sunak said: “From the analysis we have done, the promising areas in the troubled families programme have shown a decrease in the number of children in care and the number of children ‘in need’.”

He added the statistics will also show the programme has also had a positive impact in areas such as children and families involvement with the criminal justice system and unemployment, which will establish a “stronger case” for the programme to continue.

An independent evaluation of phase one of the programme published in 2016 found no strong evidence that positive outcomes or cost-savings could be attributed solely to Troubled Families. A subsequent report by the National Audit Office found  the government “overstated” the success of the programme

However, a government evaluation of the programme published last year found “significant progress” had been made which had relieved pressures on children’s social care services.

Mr Sunak said continued progress with families is “very enlightening and uplifting” and backed the programme’s use of a ‘payment by results’ funding mechanism, rather than upfront investment.

He said: “I am personally very keen to see something like troubled families continue. [Payment by results] has not been done on this scale – it does change the culture around social policy and makes it more outcome focused.”

“It is a programme that is doing wonders on the ground and I am hopeful [it will continue].”

However, Mr Sunak said it was clear the name of the programme “has to change”, with most councils no longer using the title Troubled Families for the support they provide. The term has been criticised for stigmatising families.

Children and families minister Nadhim Zahawi, who appeared alongside Mr Sunak at the evidence session, said the programme “forms a key pillar of whole system change” in terms of how council’s assess risks to children and “allows flexibility” in their approach.

He agreed the name of the programme should change.

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