A study by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies also claims that government assertions that the programme has a 99 per cent success rate are “unbelievable”.
The report points to the fact that local authorities appear to have “turned around” almost the exact number of troubled families they were required to work with, despite this being a time when those families will potentially have suffered as a result of austerity policies, cuts to local authority services and welfare reforms.
Under the Troubled Families programme, local authorities began work in April 2012 with 120,000 families identified across England as experiencing multiple, inter-related challenges with the aim of turning their lives around by May 2015.
The report claims many local authorities have achieved this turnaround not through family intervention work but through “data matching exercises”.
“This process, which requires further investigation, involves using available crime and community safety, education and employment data to claim success for families who may have been eligible for the Troubled Families programme at some stage, but who ‘turned themselves around’, without the support of a key worker,” the report states.
The report also points to the fact that many of these families were not facing the most serious problems, with 85 per cent of families in the initiative having no adults who have committed a criminal offence in the previous six months.
Meanwhile 58 per cent of families had no police callouts in the previous six months, 84 per cent had children who were not permanently excluded from school, and 93 per cent had no adults clinically diagnosed as being dependent on alcohol.
"The only characteristics shared by the majority of ‘troubled families’ are that they are white, not in work, live in social housing and have at least one household member experiencing poor health, illness and/or a disability," the report states.
"Crime, antisocial behaviour and substance abuse, even at relatively low levels, are all characteristics which relate to small minorities of official ‘troubled families’."
Will McMahon, deputy director at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, said: "The Troubled Families programme is itself deeply troubling. Its claims to success – of lives turned around and savings made – are not credible.
“There is a crying need for this programme to be subjected to proper scrutiny.
“Parliament should investigate the Troubled Families programme and the government's misleading claims about its success as a matter of urgency."
The author of the report, Stephen Crossley, a doctoral student at Durham University researching the troubled families programme, said: “Quite simply, the reported successes of the Troubled Families programme are too good to be true and require closer public and political scrutiny than they have received to date."
A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said the report fundamentally misunderstands how the Troubled Families programme works.
“The reality is there are nearly 120,000 families where kids are back in school and youth crime and antisocial behaviour has been cut, and in more and more of these homes an adult has now moved off benefits and into work.
“The programme is rigorously audited and each claim for success made by a local authority represents measured improvements in families’ lives.”
Last year it was announced that the programme will be extended to cover an additional 400,000 troubled families by 2020.