Why The Family Test should be at the heart of government policy

Tomorrow Caroline Ansell MP will put forward a bill for debate in the House of Commons that calls for the government departments to give greater consideration to the impact of their policies on family life.

Her Private Members Bill calls for the Government to extend and embed its use of the Family Test during policy making processes to identify the impact policies have on families. The Bill:

  • Requires the Test to become a compulsory step in the policy-making process
  • Asks for a report on the costs and benefits of spreading the Test to the local level
  • Calls for objectives and indicators to be established to measure the Government’s wider progress in promoting family stability.

What is the Family Test?

The Family Test is a tool the government uses to assess how a policy proposal will impact on family life. Introduced in 2014, the aim of the Test is to introduce an explicit family perspective to the process of making policy.

This is not a ‘pass or fail’ test. By highlighting the range of impacts that policies have on families early on, the Test will allow government departments time to identify and take action to mitigate the impact of policies that could undermine family relationships. The test itself is comprised of 5 questions, which Relate was involved in developing.

This is a really useful tool that has the potential to achieve focus across government departments on the stability and quality of family relationships. However, to achieve this it needs to be implemented meaningfully, consistently, early on in the development of policies and in ways which are accessible and open to scrutiny. If we don’t know how the test is being used, how can we tell if it’s making a difference?

What is a Private Members Bill?

A Private Members Bill is a proposal for legislation that has been put forward by an MP or a Lord who is not a government minister. They rarely become law as it is hard to get sufficient time for them to be debated, but they provide an opportunity for an MP to raise an issue that is close to their heart.

Previous Private Members Bills have ranged from serious issues like banning smoking in the car where a child is present to and more unusual issues like moving the UK time zone forward an hour. Some raise controversial subjects like when Conservative (and later UKIP) MP Douglas Carswell introduced a bill to leave the European Union and the debate was dubbed ‘historic’ for the raising the question in the House of Commons.

When Caroline Ansell was chosen in the ballot to put forward a Private Members Bill she decided to use the opportunity to celebrate the introduction of the Family Test and to call for it to be used more effectively and extensively by government.

Friday’s debate

Caroline Ansell’s Private Members Bill aims to put the Family Test on a clear statutory footing, making its use compulsory. The Assessment of Government Policies (Impact on the Families) Bill, to give it its full name, also requires the Secretary of State to establish objectives to improve family stability and ways of measuring progress, and to report on the costs and benefits of applying the Family Test at a local level.

In a time of increased devolution and localism, applying the Test solely at a national level is out of touch with how the decisions that affect families are made. By applying the Test to local as well as national policies we can ensure that more is being done to support families across the country. By making the Test compulsory we ensure that government continues to consider the impact of policy on families even if it stops being politically popular to do so. These are real opportunities to increase the impact the Family Test has and ensure that government policies have family at their heart.

Although it unlikely that there will be time for a long debate tomorrow, we are really pleased to have the opportunity to raise awareness of the Family Test and are hopeful that the Bill will get through to the next stage in the long (and winding) road to becoming law. The Bill sets out the case for transparent and consistent use of the Test, taking us a step closer to ensuring that all policy makers carefully consider the impact their policy will have on families.

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