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Announcement of the Family Test

David Cameron announced the introduction of the Family Test in a speech in August 2014:

I said previously that I wanted to introduce a family test into government. Now that test is being formalised as part of the impact assessment for all domestic policies. Put simply that means every single domestic policy that government comes up with will be examined for its impact on the family.

DWP Guidance

In October 2014, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) published guidance on implementing the Family Test.  The Test consists of five questions that policy makers need to consider:

  1. What kinds of impact might the policy have on family formation?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. How does the policy impact families before, during and after couple separation?
  5. How does the policy impact those families most at risk of deterioration of relationship quality and breakdown?

The application of the Family Test must be documented. The guidance asks Departments to consider publishing the outcomes but it is not a requirement.

Implementation of the Family Test

MPs have asked numerous Parliamentary Questions about how the Test is being implemented, how many assessments have been carried out, and whether assessments will be published.

In March 2016 Implementing the Family Test: A review of progress one year on was published by The Family and Childcare Trust, Relate, and Relationship Foundation supported by 14 other charities. The organisations had written to 14 relevant Government Departments asking about the guidance issued on implementing the Family Test and assessments carried out or published since its introduction. The report reproduced the responses and questioned the commitment of some Departments to implementing the Test.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) published Where next for the Family Test? (2016). This was followed by a further CSJ report in March 2019: A Review of the Family Test. Commentators have argued that the application of the Family Test has been inconsistent, and in some Departments, the Test does not appear to be a significant feature of policy-making. Several recommendations have been made to better embed the Family Test, including: requiring the assessments to be published; developing better tools and practices for officials; and conducting Government-wide reviews.

There was a debate on the Application of the Family Test on 19 March 2019.

Calls for the Family Test to be a statutory requirement

There have been calls from some MPs, the Centre for Social Justice, and the Relationship Alliance, to make the Family Test a statutory requirement. This was the intention of Caroline Ansell’s Private Member’s Bill (PMB) which was introduced during the 2015-16 Parliamentary Session. The Government has resisted these calls, arguing that it would reduce the Test to a tick box exercise. Priti Patel, then Minister for Employment, set out the Government position during the Second Reading debate on Caroline Ansell’s PMB:

Placing the family test on a legislative footing, however, runs the risk of turning the test into a tick-box exercise across Government Departments, when our ambition is to work across government with Departments to embed the benefits of thinking about policy from a family perspective at all stages of policy development, not just complying with legislative requirements.

The Government is looking to embed consideration of loneliness and relationships into the Family Test as part of the Government’s Loneliness Strategy.

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