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Implementing the Family Test: A review of progress one year on

Families are central to our society, providing care and support and shaping our individual opportunities and wellbeing. Until recently, however, there has been no formal process to make sure that government properly considers the impact of policy on families. As a result, policy has often affected families without any systematic attempt to understand and analyse that impact beforehand and to mitigate any unintended negative consequences. The Family Test was announced by the Prime Minister in a speech in August 2014 and is a welcome attempt to rectify this situation. The Test built on earlier commitments such as a speech in 2011.

announcing that “from here on I want a family test applied to all domestic policy. If it hurts families, if it undermines commitment, if it tramples over the values that keeps people together, or stops families from being together, then we shouldn’t do it.” Announcing the Test, the Prime Minister set out the importance of family relationships to society and framed the test as a way to make sure that families are central to the way that Government thinks. The importance of families for Government policy in many areas was highlighted by the Prime Minister’s statement that “whatever the social issue we want to grasp - the answer should always begin with family.” The Prime Minister made the commitment that every domestic policy that Government introduces will be examined for its impact on the family. This approach was intended to strengthen accountability in this area with David Cameron saying “I want every government department to be held to account for the impact of their policies on the family.” The Prime Minister has subsequently reiterated the importance of family relationships for the Government’s life chances strategy, seeing, for example, families as “the best anti-poverty measure ever invented” and “a welfare, education and counselling system all wrapped up into one.”

The Family Test was formally introduced in October 2014 and implemented through guidance co-produced by the Department for Work and Pensions with the relationship support sector, which sets out when and how government departments should apply the Test (the Test does not apply to the devolved administrations). The guidance includes a very broad definition of family, encompassing kinship carers, foster children and grandparents. The stated objective of the Test is to introduce a family perspective into the policy making process and make sure that potential impacts on family relationships and functioning are made explicit and recognised. The guidance encourages departments to think about the Test as an integral part of the policy making process rather than a ‘tick box’ exercise and highlights the Public Sector Equality Duty where departments are asked to consider impacts at each stage of the policy making process.6 The guidance also highlights the freedom of policy makers to make their own judgements about how the test is applied. The Test is not intended to be a pass/fail exercise but to allow departments to consider the impact of policy on families and to respond appropriately. Neither the test nor the guidance have a statutory basis.