Relationships Foundation welcomed the publication of The Family Test guidance for government departments from the Department for Work & Pensions1. RF has been making the case for this development for many years, starting with the publication of The Triple Test six years ago.2
Our work has showed that the social dimension is the elephant in the room when it comes to an integrated approach to public policy. Relationships Foundation originally proposed the Triple Test as a new ‘Big Idea’ to politicians and people alike: that policy development, proposals for legislation and government action should all be subject to a triple test – economic, environmental and social. But we are very happy to see this taken forward initially as a Family Test.
Indeed, in recent years we have developed our proposal in a number of more specific ways, including the work we have done on family policy. In a series of publications we have made the case in these areas:
- It’s Time for the Family Deal 3
- It’s Time to take Family Failure Seriously 4
- It’s time for Family-proofing Policy 5
- It’s Time for the Family Day Bill.. 6
Alongside these campaigns we have continued to develop of Cost of Family Failure Index7 which is now widely quoted both within the UK and worldwide.
In making their Family Test announcement we recognise that the government has made progress in a number of ways. First, RF’s long-standing insistence that there needs to be “strong leadership at the heart of government” if the UK is to “make progress towards becoming the most family-friendly country in Europe8” is met in some part by locating lead responsibility for family affairs to one department – the DWP. We do, however, still caution that the active support of the Prime Minister at the heart of government must be maintained.
Second, we see this development as an opportunity for the government to move towards developing a much clearer family strategy – we have long argued for the need for “a clear plan” for family policy8. We welcomed David Cameron’s ambition, laid out in speeches before the last general election, to make Britain the “most family-friendly country in Europe9, 10” but have, since then, severely doubted that the coalition government was matching this rhetoric with practical results. We said that “warm words were welcome but hard action is needed.”11 However, with the announcement of the Family Test, we recognise that the government has now gone some way towards meeting our case for what we called the Family Deal – that “every government department should be clear about the extent to which it depends on families, and test how family friendly its policies and actions are”12. We believe that the five “Family Test Questions”1 which the DWP are proposing are a good starting point to make the progress we want to see.
Third, we recognise that the government has begun to develop a more structured way of supporting relationships education by working with the Relationships Alliance13, a consortium of the main national relationships providers.
So, in brief, we welcome recent developments in government process, policy and practice. But this is, clearly, just a beginning and we have pointed out many false starts in the past. Along with its ongoing broader work Relationships Foundation therefore intends to develop a Test of the Family Test and challenge the government as to how far and fast it is making progress.
9. http://www.conservatives.com/~/media/files/activist%20centre/press%20and%20policy/manifestos/manifesto2010 (see p.41)