I have written today to the UK Statistics Authority to raise some questions about the government’s figures on “troubled families”. In December the Prime Minister explained:
Today, I want to talk about troubled families. Let me be clear what I mean by this phrase. Officialdom might call them ‘families with multiple disadvantages’. Some in the press might call them ‘neighbours from hell’. … We’ve always known that these families cost an extraordinary amount of money, but now we’ve come up the actual figures. Last year the state spent an estimated £9 billion on just 120,000 families – that is around £75,000 per family.
The same figures have been repeated in a series of government statements, including material from the Department of Communities and Local Government, the Home Office and the DWP.
The UK Statistics Authority exists to guarantee the integrity of official statistics in the UK. They have established a range of criteria for integrity, transparency and quality, but among other requirements they state that departments should
- “Ensure that official statistics are produced according to scientific principles”
- “Publish details of the methods adopted, including explanations of why particular choices were made.”
- “Issue statistical reports separately from any other statement or comment about the figures and ensure that no statement or comment – based on prior knowledge – is issued to the press or published ahead of the publication of the statistics.”
That is not what’s happened here. “We’ve come up with the actual figures”, the PM’s statement says, and policy has been rolled out from that starting point. Some explanation of where the figure of 120,000 families come from appeared in a note from the Department of Education, though it was not publicized; there have been trenchant criticisms from Jonathan Portes and Ruth Levitas, on the basis that there is no connection between the indicators used to identify troubled families and the problems of crime and anti-social behaviour. The basis of the costings is still not publicly available. I’ve asked the Statistics Authority to consider whether there has been a breach of their Code of Practice.