Since October 2014 the Government has been committed to applying a "Family Test" to all new domestic policies. This was a welcome step towards putting relationships and families at the heart of public policy - something which my organisation, Relate, has long been calling for. However, as the Chancellor stands to deliver the results of his Spending Review on 25th November we will gain a clear insight into the extent to which this commitment has taken hold across Government.
The intention of the Family Test is that in developing new policies, the Government should stop and think about how they might impact on our ability to form and maintain strong, stable family relationships - the kind that each and every one of us relies upon for our wellbeing, our sense of self, our health, our productivity - the kind which, crucially, ensures that our children have the best possible life chances. And the commitment that was made in October last year means that this question ought to have been asked of every decision that has been made about how to spend the nation's money. So what would that mean in practice?
A Spending Review that has been properly subjected to the family test will ensure the provision of public services which support us to live well together, recognising our interdependencies rather than treating people like individual units. It will support families to balance work and family life, it will enable people to live close to those they love, it will support people to stay healthy recognising how good relationships can help us stay well, and ill-health can strain relationships. It will also provide funding for support for those whose relationships falter - like the services provided by Relate.
Relationship breakdown has enormous cost implications for our economy and society at large. The Government knows this - it has just put supporting stable relationships at the heart of its policies to tackle child poverty. But at the moment its commitment to supporting the fledgling market for relationship support totals a mere £7.5millon compared to the staggering £47 billion annual cost of relationship breakdown. Direct funding for relationship support must surely, therefore, be part of the package of measures to meet the Government's commitment to families. But it must not end there - instead we will be looking for a golden thread of family-awareness woven through the entire review - informing the decisions made in every area from transport to prisons policy. And we will be hoping to see a published Family Test impact assessment alongside the Spending Review, to make this commitment to the family absolutely explicit.
The Family Test is not a policy prescription - there is no "right answer" - but rather it's a call to awareness and an invitation to think differently about what should be the basic unit of government policy - moving from "individuals" or even "households" to grandmothers and grandfathers, mums and dads, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. This is quite a shift, but it is one that needs to be made.
We know that, in a time of financial constraint, families face increasing pressures that can put a strain on relationships. So now more than ever we must put these relationships centre-stage. The strength and quality of our couple, family and wider social relationships are key to our resilience - time and again it is our capabilities for forming and sustaining good relationships which explain why some people flourish and others flounder. Ensuring everyone is able to form and sustain good quality relationships is therefore a social justice issue: good relationships are not the icing on the cake of our achievements - they are the keys with which we unlock our potential.
So a Government committed to prosperity, to opportunity and to families will spend money to support them, will recognise the role that relationships play in every area from housing to the health service, and will build public services that support these. That's what we'll be watching out for on 25th November.