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Family Test

Volume 768: debated on Tuesday 26 January 2016


Asked by

My Lords, the family test is an integral part of the policy-making process. There is a cross-government commitment to embed the family test in all domestic policy considerations. The Department for Work and Pensions has established a dedicated team to support government departments and ensure that the family test is applied in a meaningful way.

My Lords, the DWP recommends, in its guidance to other departments on the family test, that they consider publication of any assessment. However, it has rejected calls from family organisations and faith groups that it should do so itself on the policy in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill to limit financial support to two children. Could the Minister explain why? Will she commit to routine publication in future, in the interests of transparency and of the explicit family perspective on policy-making that we were promised?

My Lords, the family test is included in and incorporated into advice to Ministers on new policy. It is not a pass or fail exercise; it is about helping to make informed decisions about how to support strong and stable families. It is much broader than a tick-box exercise, which seems to be the thrust of the question.

My Lords, I have not consulted their Graces the most reverend Primates the Archbishops, but I feel confident in saying that we on these Benches welcome the thrust of the life-chances strategy, which the Prime Minister outlined in a recent speech. We believe, as does the Prime Minister, that the family is the best anti-poverty measure ever invented—invented by God, in fact, although the Prime Minister did not add that. The increase in funding for relationship support is welcome, but could the Minister indicate how the priorities articulated in the family test might shape the development of the life-chances strategy as it is published and implemented in due course?

The life-chances strategy aims to tackle the root causes of child poverty and to help transform children’s lives. Those root causes include family breakdown, addiction, debt and worklessness. The Prime Minister has announced the doubling of funding for relationship support over the next five years, as well as the tearing down of sink estates, investment in mental health care and support for women during pregnancy.

My Lords, I remind the Minister that when the Prime Minister announced this important policy in August 2014, he made a point of saying that he wanted the test to apply to every single domestic policy. That is what he said. Would the Minister be prepared to commission an independent evaluation of that policy, in early course, so that we can test whether the Prime Minister’s ambitious policy intent is being delivered in practice?

My Lords, I assure the House that the family test is indeed incorporated into every new domestic policy consideration by this Government.

My Lords, I spoke recently to a woman called Ruth, who had adopted three siblings aged under four. The children were placed with her only because she agreed to stay home in their early years, because they were very damaged. However, her husband was a vicar, and she could only afford to give up work and feed the children because of tax credits. She got in touch to say that if the Government push through the plan tomorrow to limit all benefits and tax credits to the first two children in any family, she would not be able to adopt those children in future, and they would stay in care at a cost of £40,000 per child per year. I asked the Minister how that policy passed the family test. He would not tell me. Will she?

My Lords, as I said, the family test is not a tick-box exercise. Policy is always about trade-offs, but the family test ensures that family impacts are explicitly considered when making those trade-offs.

My Lords, we spent quite a lot of time yesterday looking at issues affecting the family through the Welfare Reform and Work Bill. My noble friends Lady Lister and Lady Sherlock in particular pressed the Minister time and again as to whether these proposals in the Bill passed the family test. Answer came there none. Can the Minister tell us in what way, explicitly, the proposals in the Welfare Reform and Work Bill have been subjected to and evaluated against the family test and whether they have passed it, as she has told the House today?

I can only repeat to the noble Baroness that the family test is not a pass or fail exercise. It is right to make our welfare system fairer for the working families currently paying into the system to support others, and the family test has been explicitly considered in the new policies and trade-offs necessary in all policy-making.

My Lords, I hope that the family test recognises that poor families come in different shapes and sizes and that there is no intention of pushing a particular policy, of which we saw a little in China. Margaret and I had two children of our own and then fostered two children who came to us at the ages of eight and one and a half. They are now working adults. Had this family test been around, I would have been worried, as Ruth is, because that child would have found it very difficult. Will the Minister assure us that when the family test comes, common sense will prevail, not numbers?

My Lords, families are the foundations of society. Strong and stable families, we know, can have a huge impact on improving the life chances of our children, and we have a clear and unqualified commitment to strengthening and supporting family life for our children and for generations to come.