22/03/2016 06:04 GMT | Updated 22/03/2017 05:12 GMT

Testing Times - The Family Test One Year On

The family has been a recurrent theme of David Cameron's speeches - both as opposition leader and Prime Minister. He has rightly linked family relationships and to broader themes such as social mobility, life chances and wellbeing. But until recently it has been less clear that this point of view would inform day to day policymaking.

As Prime Minister, David Cameron has sought to rectify this situation by announcing a family test applied to all domestic policy, saying that "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." The Family Test was formally introduced in October 2014. The test encourages all government departments to consider the impact of their work on families, as well as the ways in which they can support families.

As organisations that work with families every day, The Family and Childcare Trust, Relate and the Relationships Foundation , strongly welcomed the introduction of the Family Test.* We have now come together to review the early implementation of the test in a report published today.

To find out how well the test is being implemented across government, we wrote to the departments affected asking them what they were doing. The responses we received suggest a mixed picture and are summarised in our report, Implementing the Family Test: a review of progress one year on .

The report found that of 14 departments, only four can point to specific policies to which the Test has been applied. The Department for Communities and Local Government, which oversees vital council services for families, and the Department of Health, which is responsible for physical and mental health services and social care, were among those departments that did not provide meaningful information about how they have implemented the Family Test. The Cabinet Office, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs provided stock responses to the short survey.

In contrast, other departments - such as the Department for Work and Pensions, Department for Education, The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and the Ministry of Defence - were able to demonstrate how they had positively applied the Family Test to policy-making, with the Department for Work and Pensions providing generic guidance and training across departments.

On a more positive note, five departments have told us that they have produced tailored guidance or tools to apply the Family Test, for example by incorporating the test into their mandatory policy development training for staff.

Overall, what we found is a clear need for more work to do to make sure the Family Test is taken seriously across government and applied consistently and effectively. We have suggested the following four steps to help embed the test more effectively:

  • The Family Test should be given a statutory footing so that the test has real teeth and policy makers must always apply it when appropriate.
  • Departments should be required to publish a record of their Family Test assessments so that there is a transparent record of when and how the test is being applied.
  • The Government should publish an annual review summarising its aims in supporting families and its progress in meeting these aims.
  • Finally, the Government should develop and publish tools and resources to share evidence and support departments in applying the Family Test.

These steps would end any uncertainty about the purpose and status of the test. This is not to underestimate the work already undertaken by government departments, but rather to recognise that fundamental change in the practice of policymaking is never quick.

The Family Test can be a success as long as there is sustained emphasis on its importance from the top, continuing learning and development amongst the civil service, and constructive engagement from the full range of organisations with an interest in families. It will take time but the potential rewards are great.

*This blog post was produced in conjunction with The Relationships Foundation and The Family and Childcare Trust