Assessment of Government Policies (Impact on Families) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:13 pm on 4 December 2015.

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Photo of Pat Glass Pat Glass Shadow Minister (Education) 2:13, 4 December 2015

I congratulate Caroline Ansell on bringing forward this Bill and on calling on the Government to make the family test a statutory requirement when taking account of the impact on families of new laws and policy. If the Bill is passed it will

“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 family test introduces a family perspective to the policy-making process in England and across Departments. It will ensure that Ministers and Departments identify in advance, and make explicit, the potential impacts of policies on family relationships.

We support the family test, but as the hon. Lady said, its implementation varies across Departments. In response to a topical question from my hon. Friend Alex Cunningham, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General said:

“The 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”.—[Hansard, 21 October 2015; Vol. 600, c. 945.]

He said that one of the things the Government do is apply the family test. However, that is not borne out by the evidence.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne said that there are good examples of the family test being used, and she gave the Childcare Bill as one of them. When it was introduced in the Lords, it stated that parents who worked more than eight hours a week would qualify for 30 hours of free childcare. With a sweep of his pen last week, the Chancellor increased the threshold to 16 hours, thereby removing 1.4 million families from eligibility. If that is an example of the family test working well, I would not like to see where it is working badly.

Some training and awareness-raising does appear to have taken place in Departments, but so far no published outcomes have been seen. Relate, the Family and Childcare Trust and the Relationships Foundation have said that it is important that there is a transparent and routine process through which the Government’s record on supporting family relationships can be assessed. They say that it should be more than just the sum of multiple family test assessments, and should include reliable and holistic data.

Those organisations, which support the Bill and call for an annual report on the Government’s progress in meeting the objectives of the family test, want reliable and holistic measures to be put in place to make assessment possible. They believe that should be possible, and that it should be done on a statutory basis, and we share that aim.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Eastbourne on introducing the Bill, which is a useful step forward. Along with organisations such as Relate, the Family and Childcare Trust, the Relationships Foundation, the Association for Family Therapy, Grandparents Plus, the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, Unison, 4Children and many others, the Opposition support the Bill and wish it a fair wind.