UK Politics

Family test for policies will 'support stability'

Woman with a pram walking in London
Image caption The government says it is investing up to £20m on relationship support to ensure family stability

Ministers have outlined the details of a new "families test" to be applied to all laws and government policies.

All Whitehall initiatives will be measured against the impact they have on the formation of stable families, parenting and caring duties and the risk of breakdown and separation.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said the needs of families must be at the heart of government policy.

Labour said most families were worse off since the coalition came to power.

David Cameron, who before taking power said his government would be the "most family friendly" in history, announced plans for the new test in August.

Ministers have now published guidance setting out the criteria that will be applied to future policies for which the UK government is responsible.

The guidance was drawn up in consultation with campaign group Relationship Alliance, whose members include Relate and Marriage Care.

'Key transitions'

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Media captionAs the government introduces new family-friendly tests, Steve Webb was asked to define what makes up a family

The Department for Work and Pensions said it was vital that the whole of government fully understood how its policies supported strong family relationships and the test would allow departments to identify and take action to address any policies that could undermine them.

All civil servants will be expected to ask themselves a series of questions as they formulate policy at an early stage, before it is put to ministers and Parliament.

The questions are:

  • What impact will policies have on family formation?
  • What impact will policies 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 impact will policies have on all family members' ability to play a full role in family life, including with respect to parenting and other caring responsibilities?
  • What impact will policies have on families before, during and after couple separation?
  • The impact on families most at risk of deterioration of relationship quality and breakdown?

All departments will need to show how they have met the test and that they have considered issues such as take-up of parental leave, shared parenting responsibilities and recognition of the role played by grandparents in family life.

'Long overdue'

Mr Duncan Smith said the coalition had already done a huge amount for families and the move was designed to ensure the needs of families were not overlooked in policy making.

"It's possible for a politician not to see that. And nobody else is thinking about it like that, so this is saying, it's not good enough that I don't think about it, it has to be done by officials as they put this stuff together at the beginning," he told BBC Breakfast.

"So that's the key bit. The change is that we're going to ask officials to ask themselves this question, even before they get started on policies."

Lib Dem Pensions Minister Steve Webb said the move was "long overdue" as the government already subjected its policies to assessments in other areas, such as equality and the environment.

The test, he insisted, was not predicated on a "single family model" and would take into account the needs of single parents as well as married couples.

"It is a hurdle that any government department will have to cross before it can make a major policy announcement," he told the BBC's Daily Politics.

He said he would not be drawn on whether a Conservative plan to give a tax break to married couples and civil partners - which his party opposes - would pass the new test.

'Losing out'

Ruth Sutherland, chief executive of Relate, said it was an "important step towards putting families and relationships at the heart of public policy".

But Labour said childcare costs had soared since 2010, more than 600 Sure Start centres had closed and plans for a transferrable marriage tax allowance would only benefit a third of married couples.

"This new test will do nothing to help the millions of families who have lost out over the last four-and-a-half years as a result of this government's policies," said shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves.

"David Cameron promised his government would be the most family-friendly 'ever' but the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has said families will be £974 a year worse off because of tax and benefit changes since 2010."

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