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'The Ugly Truth'

by Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science

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August 2016

The Troubled Families debacle

On Monday 8th August Newsnight reported that the UK government had commissioned, but not published, an evaluation of its flagship Troubled Families programme. Launched by then prime minister David Cameron in response to the 2011 riots, the programme was intended to “turn around the lives of the 120,000 most troubled households in the country”. Contrary to self-reporting from local councils that suggested the scheme was enjoying an almost 100% success rate, according to Newsnight (the report is still to be published) the commissioned evaluation found no effect from the scheme on the families it was designed to help. The government has allegedly had the report since autumn 2015.

Both Shaun Bailey, former special adviser to Cameron who appeared on Newsnight, and Jill Rutter, writing in the Guardian, argue we shouldn't chastise the government for trying something that didn't work (you can't know until you've tried it), and we should applaud them for evaluating policy. But those evaluations need to be published. Without clear, published evaluations of policy, governments waste resources. Published evaluations help us work out what works, and what doesn't.

Earlier this year Sense about Science released Missing Evidence, following an inquiry into the non-publication of government research. In it we call for a standardised central register of all externally commissioned government research, so that we the public - and government itself - know what research has been paid for and when we can expect to see it.

The public can get over the fact that a policy didn't work. What they are less likely to get over is the delay in government telling us about it.

Read the report, Missing Evidence, written following an inquiry into the non-publication of government research, for our full recommendations.