MP CAROLINE ANSELL: Is the Family Test hitting the mark?

Caroline Ansell, MP for Eastbourne SUS-160604-141512001
Caroline Ansell, MP for Eastbourne SUS-160604-141512001

If it hurts families…we shouldn’t do it.

These were the words of the Prime Minister in October 2014. I couldn’t agree more.

However, it’s my view that these laudable intentions haven’t always been matched with the necessary action to deliver them.

The introduction of the Family Test was a fantastic step in the right direction, but I have been concerned that it didn’t have the weight that is needed to really make an impact.

There are several government departments which have good examples of how they have pro-actively implemented the Family Test - but there is more work to do.

A recent report by Relate, The Family and Childcare Trust, Relationships Foundation, has put forwarded recommendations that echo my own - for example, calling for the test to be put on a statutory footing, requiring publication of Family Test assessments and examining the feasibility of a local Family Test.

In addition to these steps though, it’s clear that for the test to be really effective it needs to be championed at every level of government. I suspect the main thing that makes the difference between those departments that have embraced the Family Test and those that haven’t isn’t evidence, tools or guidance – it’s people.

Having the right people in place to champion the test at every level of seniority and in every department will make more difference than any toolkit we could produce.

Iain Duncan Smith has personally championed the Family Test at a ministerial level, describing it as ‘a clear and unqualified commitment to strengthening and supporting family life’.

Last summer he said, in answer to a question in Parliament, that the implementation of the test ‘will be reviewed through the Social Justice Cabinet Committee’ which he chaired until his recent resignation.

The next chair of this committee has yet to be announced, but I hope that they accept the challenge of picking up where their predecessor left off.

As the report itself says ‘these findings should not be interpreted to indicate that the Family Test is failing… there will be an inevitable period of bedding in’.

I, along with the voluntary sector organisations who produced this report, will certainly be keen to offer our assistance to the new chair and to the new Secretary of State, to help them ensure that when we look again at it next year, the ‘bedding in’ process is complete and the Family Test scores top marks.