This House of Commons Library briefing sets out the system of support for children and young people in England aged 0-25 with special educational needs (SEN). The briefing provides an overview of the new system introduced in 2014, the transitional arrangements, and how the new system differs from that which preceded it. It also includes a brief history of the movement towards reform that preceded the 2014 changes, and information on the impact of the new system available to date.
The Bill is set out on this Bill home page :
The Assessment of Government Policies (Impact on Families) Bill (HC Bill 26) is a Bill to:
Require ministers to carry out an assessment of the impact of government policies on families by giving statutory effect to the family test; to place a duty on the Secretary of State to make a report on the costs and benefits of requiring local authorities to carry out equivalent tests on their policies; to require the Secretary of State to establish, and make an annual report on, indicators of and targets for the government’s performance in promoting family stability; and for connected purposes.
The Explanatory Notes to the Bill contain an overview which states:
The objective of this Bill is to introduce a family perspective to the policy-making process in England. It aims to ensure that Ministers and departments recognise and make explicit the potential impacts on family relationships in the process of developing and agreeing proposals for new expenditure, administrative or policy proposals, including those for both primary and secondary legislation.
On her Families Bill page, Caroline Ansell explains the purpose of the Bill:
“The objective of my Bill, Assessment of Government Policies (Impact on Families) is to introduce a family perspective to the policy making process in our nation. The Bill will ensure that Ministers and departments recognise and make explicit the potential impacts on family relationships in the process of developing and agreeing new policy and new legislative proposals.”
The Family Test
On 18 August 2014 the Prime Minister announced the introduction of a ‘family test’.
The Family Test: Guidance for Government Departments was issued by the Department for Work and Pensions in October 2014. The guidance sets out when and how Government departments should apply the Test:
“The objective of the Test is to introduce an explicit family perspective to the policy making process, and ensure that potential impacts on family relationships and functioning are made explicit and recognised in the process of developing new policy… by asking policy makers to anticipate the potential impact of policy on families at each stage of the policy making process, and document the potential impacts to raise awareness and support effective decision making and debate.”
The test includes a series of questions that all civil servants should consider when first developing policy and legislation. The aim is to ensure that a family perspective is at the heart of Government policy making.
The 5 family test questions are:
- What kind of impact might the policy have on family formation?
- What kind of impact will the policy have on families going through key transitions such as becoming parents, getting married, fostering or adopting, bereavement, redundancy, new caring responsibilities or the onset of a long-term health condition?
- What impacts will the policy have on all family members’ ability to play a full role in family life, including with respect to parenting and other caring responsibilities?
- How does the policy impact families before, during and after couple separation?
- How does the policy impact those families most at risk of deterioration of relationship quality and breakdown?
The guidance states that departments should document the use of the test:
“It is important that the application of the Family Test is documented in an appropriate way as part of the policy making process. Where a detailed assessment is carried out, departments should consider a standalone document to bring together their analysis. Departments should consider publishing assessments where they are carried out, and where policy is being submitted for collective agreement through the Cabinet Committee process, the assessment should be included alongside other policy documentation.”
A blog on the Government’s “Open Policy Making” forum in November 2014, Open Policy Making: Introducing the Family Test discusses the ideas behind the test and how it is intended to work. It also states that:
“Building on our Open Policy Making approach, we plan to hold a series of Family Test seminars next year, bringing in experts to meet policy makers, facilitating new connections across departments and with key stakeholders.”
Applying the Family Test
Since the test was announced Members have been asking how it is intended to work:
Asked by: Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con)
May I welcome the introduction of the family test and the Secretary of State’s lead on that? What is he doing to ensure that it does what the Prime Minister says it should do, which is change the way Government do business?22 Jun 2015 | Oral questions – Supplementary | 597 c612Asked by: Baroness Tyler of EnfieldI thank the Minister for her Answer and welcome her to her new role. The last time I counted, there were five government departments with a direct interest in family relationships: indeed, six if you count the Home Office’s interest in domestic violence. Given this fragmentation and the fact that relationship breakdown is estimated to cost the country some £46 billion per year, what mechanisms will be used at Cabinet level to ensure that family policy is co-ordinated across government, and how will each department be held to account for the family test announced by the Prime Minister last year?Answering member: Baroness Altmann | Department for Work and Pensions
I can inform the noble Baroness that the family test will be applied to all new policies that are being developed by government, and it will be strictly applied. The idea at the moment is that we transfer the Department for Education’s responsibility to the Department for Work and Pensions so that these policies are more integrated for the benefit of the families who we are trying to support.22 Jun 2015 | Oral answers to questions | House of Lords | 762 c1361Family and Relationship SupportAnswering member: Baroness Altmann | Department for Work and Pensions
Clearly there is speculation in the papers about all sorts of things. I certainly cannot comment on that particular issue, but I repeat my assurance that all polices are subject to the strict family test.22 Jun 2015 | Oral answers to questions | House of Lords | 762 c1361
Asked by: Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab)How is the Cabinet Office implementing the family test and monitoring its implementation across Government?Answered by: Matthew Hancock | Cabinet OfficeThe family test is routinely applied and considered when all policy is developed. Government policy as a whole has to go through a series of checks, and one of the things we do to make sure that the family test is passed is to make sure that we stick to the strong economy that our families in Britain depend on.21 Oct 2015 | Oral questions – 1st Supplementary | Answered | House of Commons | 600 c945
Home Office: FamiliesAsked by: Green, Kate
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, how many of her Department’s policies have been assessed against the family test; what steps she has taken to publish the outcome of such assessments; and if she will make a statement.Answering member: James Brokenshire | Home Office
The Family Test was announced by the Prime Minister in August 2014 and introduced in October 2014. The DWP published guidance for Departments and officials on how the test should be applied when formulating policy and my Department follows that guidance.
The guidance can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/368894/family-test-guidance.pdf
The Family Test is also being integrated within the Department’s impact assessment process to ensure it is consistently addressed. Recognising that all Government policies will impact on families in some way, the Government’s guidance on the Family Test is clear that policies should pass a threshold of proportionality before the Family Test is applied in full. New Home Office policies in the current Parliament have not met the threshold for applying the Family Test. The Family Test, when applied, will be published as part of the relevant impact assessment.18 Nov 2015 | Written questions | 16021Asked by: Green, Kate
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, how many of his Department’s policies have been assessed against the family test; what steps he has taken to publish the outcome of such assessments; and if he will make a statement.Answering member: Priti Patel | Department for Work and Pensions
The Family Test is an integral part of the policy making process and is applied in a proportionate way in the development of all new policy in line with the Family Test guidance. While the guidance states that departments should consider publishing assessments carried out under the Test, there is no requirement to do so.19 Nov 2015 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 16028Asked by: Green, Kate | Party: Labour Party
To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what steps his Department is taking to implement the family test.Answering member: Caroline Dinenage | Ministry of Justice
The Family Test was introduced in October 2014 and can be located at the following link Family Test Guidance
The Family Test is part of the policy making process and is applied in a proportionate way in the development of new policy in line with the guidance. Potential impacts of policy on family functioning and relationships are identified and brought to the attention of Ministers where appropriate.
There is no requirement to publish the Family Test assessments. The Ministry of Justice does not collect information on the number of full Family Test assessments completed.19 Nov 2015 | Written questions | 16015Asked by: Dakin, Nic
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what steps his Department has taken to embed the Family Test into its policy making.Answering member: Priti Patel | Department for Work and Pensions
Officials have undertaken a number of activities to embed the Family Test into the policy making process. This has included training officials on applying the Test, as well as disseminating relevant evidence, learning materials and best practice.26 Nov 2015 | Written questions | 16800Asked by: Ansell, Caroline
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what training her Department has provided to staff on the family test; what other steps she has taken to raise awareness of the family test among staff of her Department; and if she will make a statement.Answering member: Karen Bradley | Home Office
The Family Test has been integrated into the Department’s impact assessment process. Workshops are being scheduled to further assist staff in understanding how to apply the guidance introduced for the Family Test issued by the Department for Work and Pensions.30 Nov 2015 | Written questions | 17927
The Family Test has been raised in the following debates:
Welfare Reform and Work BillHL Deb 17 nov 2015 | 767 cc28-128HC Deb 17 Nov 2015 | 602 cc554-643Welfare Reform and Work BillHC Deb 27 Oct 2015 | 601 cc207-312
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