In August the Prime Minister announced that all new policy would be subject to a test on how it impacted families, and the Family Policy team in DWP were asked to develop what has become the Family Test.
Families often mediate how particular policies impact individuals and how citizens engage with public services, but policy makers don’t always think through the implications of this in a systematic way. Our relationships, including with other family members, are recognised as important to our wellbeing, but are rarely the focus of policy.
What we wanted to do with the family test was bring a family perspective to policy making. We want to ensure that when policy makers are looking at how policy will work, and how it will impact different groups, they look at it through a relational lens and think about how strong and stable family relationships can be supported.
There have been a range of tests for policy makers in the past, and there was inevitably some cynicism that the new test would become a dreaded ‘tick box exercise’. Also, expertise in this area sits largely outside government departments, so developing a credible proposition would require open engagement with key groups. The challenge was how we would engage in a meaningful way while meeting a demanding timetable for implementing the test.
We brought together a broad range of stakeholder groups to discuss how the test would work, and then commenced an intensive piece of collaborative work to develop the guidance on the test with the Relationship Alliance, a coalition of organisations working together to develop and support strong and stable couple, family and social relationships.
I found this approach quite liberating. We can be too risk averse in how we engage with organisations outside government, but developing the trust needed to have frank and open discussions to develop policy can be incredibly rewarding and productive. I have no doubt that this collaboration led to a better outcome, we had a better understanding of how the test would be viewed, and the challenge that our partners brought really helped to stress test our thinking.
We have now published the guidance and the response has been really interesting so far. For most people the idea that we should think about family relationships seems obvious, we are after all members of families ourselves, but in some policy areas it is clearly a very new consideration.
Publishing the guidance is just the start, we now need to raise the profile of the Test across government, and ensure that it is being embedded in a meaningful way. We also need to support departments in engaging with the evidence. Building on our Open Policy Making approach, we plan to hold a series of Family Test seminars next year, bringing in experts to meet policy makers, facilitating new connections across departments and with key stakeholders.