Assessment of Government Policies (Impact on Families) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:02 pm on 4 December 2015.

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Photo of Caroline Ansell Caroline Ansell Conservative, Eastbourne 2:02, 4 December 2015

Thank you kindly. It is in the family where we thrive. The family are the best carers, the best nurturers and the best teachers.

I am so proud of my country. We lead the world in so many ways, but one of the ways in which we lead it is a cause of deep disappointment and huge concern to me: internationally, we are fourth in terms of family breakdown. Let us look at the cost of that breakdown to the person and the child who has experienced it. According to the Centre for Social Justice, they are more likely to grow up in poorer housing, leave home at an earlier age, have more behavioural issues, report more depressive symptoms, become sexually active earlier, become pregnant and a parent earlier, leave school with fewer qualifications, and leave school earlier. A conservative estimate of the financial cost—£46 billion, which equates to the entire spend of the Scottish Government—shows us that family breakdown costs and costs. That is why it is so right that family policy has its place.

Under the Prime Minister’s leadership, we have seen excellent innovation, with new support for relationships, re-recognition of marriage in the income tax system, shared parental leave, the troubled families initiative, and now a new, ambitious programme around house building—excellent. A particularly important moment in the development of the Government’s family policy came in August 2014, when the Prime Minister addressed the relationship summit and announced the introduction of the family test. He said:

“The reality is that in the past the family just hasn’t been central to the way government thinks. So you get a whole load of policy decisions which take no account of the family and sometimes make these things worse. Whether it’s the benefits system incentivising couples to live apart or penalising those who go out to work—or whether it’s excessive bureaucracy preventing loving couples from adopting children with no family at all.

We can’t go on having government taking decisions like this which ignore the impact on the family.

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.”

The Prime Minister’s speech was followed in October that year by the inauguration of the family test guidance produced by the Department for Work and Pensions under the sterling leadership of my right hon. Friend Mr Duncan Smith. The family test guidance has now been in place for over a year. It is a milestone, an anniversary—perhaps not a coming of age, but a good point at which we could look at this prism of the family test and its impact on policy.

In that light, a whole host of questions have been put to Departments. They ask the Minister how many of his or her Department’s policies have been assessed against the family test and what steps have been taken to publish the outcome of such an assessment. I regret to say that the answers to those questions have been rather limited. In many instances, the response was that the guidance urges only a consideration of publication, and therefore no publication had followed. There have been good examples of the assessment in relation to the Childcare Bill and the Education and Adoption Bill. However, the potential within the family test is as yet unrealised.

Therefore, my Bill looks to give the family test more authority, more influence, and more reach. Clause 1 defines the family test. Clause 2 introduces the central component of the Bill by making it a statutory obligation. Clause 3 applies the test to all Departments. Of particular importance given the perhaps as yet limited understanding of how the test has had an impact, clause 2 requires that the assessment be published.

Clause 4 requires that an assessment be made as to whether the family test should be applied to local government, given that so many of those policy decisions touch on family life. It also makes provision for the Secretary of State, through regulation, to subject any other public body to the family test as they see fit. Clause 5 provides greater clarity on the policy objectives that inform the family test, requiring the establishment of indicators for the Government’s work in promoting strong and stable families.