David Cameron's "Family Test" is a ridiculous idea. Photo: Getty
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Imagining the “family test” in action since the coalition came in

How David Cameron's "family test" would have worked if it had been brought in from 2010.

David Cameron – in a serious policy announcement the weight of which lies somewhere between forcing the Queen to regale her subjects with a discussion about plastic bags and the opposition’s “owls for everyone” coup – has told his eagerly-listening nation of hardworking people that, “every single domestic policy that government comes up with will be examined for its impact on the family”.

He’s set up a formalised “family test” for government departments to follow as of October to assess every single piece of policy they are creating for its “family-friendly” credentials.

Aside from this being yet another bureaucratic hurdle for harder-pressed Whitehall officials, a vague and hollow measure brought in nine months before an election by a PM whose party needs to boost its support from women, and glaringly ironic considering the coalition’s attitude to families played out by the “bedroom tax”, child benefit cuts, immigration crackdowns and backdoor marketisation of higher education, the prospect of shoe-horning every policy into a “family test” is quite funny.

If Cameron had brought in this test when he became Prime Minister in 2010, here’s how some of the coalition’s most prominent plans would have fared:

 

2011: Defra announces Badger Cull

Family-friendly credentials:

  • Terror at badger carcasses littering the countryside may do much to bring Britain’s tragically disintegrating “problem” families closer together, united in horror.
     
  • Families will be so stricken with disgust they will stand stock-still in forests, fixated by the badgers, giving them a chance to enjoy the outdoors instead of staying in watching television.
     

Non-family-friendly credentials:

  • The idea of exterminating cuddly badgers could traumatise children, which means we may have to budget more for family counselling services.

 

Family test: FAIL

 

2012: Pasty Tax mooted in Budget (pre-U-turn)

Family-friendly credentials:

  • Children wouldn’t eat as many pasties, so they’d be thinner, meaning parents could fit more children into each bedroom, which would lead to more unused rooms in houses and us being able to raise more money from the Bedroom Tax  Spare-Room Subsidy.
     
  • Married couples might eschew Greggs for more sophisticated eateries on their date nights, therefore reducing the divorce rate.
     

Non-family-friendly credentials:

  • Arguments among family members about what constitutes hot takeaway food (if it is bought from the premises cool and later heated, does that count? What about if it is heated up there?) could lead to the collapse of the family unit.


Family test: PASS

 

2012: Cutting the top rate of tax

Family-friendly credentials:

  • Children seeing the top tax rate reduced from 50p to 45p may be willing to take a 5p cut in their 50p weekly pocket money, therefore teaching them thrift and meaning they have the ability to buy fewer penny sweets, which is a public health bonus.
     
  • The Labour party’s inevitable cries of “tax-cut for millionaires” will give rowing families a common enemy (Labour’s sloganeers, not the rich) to rally against, therefore introducing solidarity to the family unit.


Non-family-friendly credentials:

  • As George Osborne and his coalition colleagues will have to spend the next three years defending this move, they will have less time to say the phrase “hardworking families”, which could lead to families working less hard.
     
  • Millionaires throughout the country being better-off might mean they'll run rogue, buy secret shag-pads overseas and be unfaithful to their partners, leading to a break-down in the sanctity of marriage.
     

Family test: FAIL

 

2013: HS2 government report

Family-friendly credentials:

  • A new famous British train in our midst would eclipse the sexist cult of Thomas the Tank Engine, therefore teaching young girls and boys the importance of gender equality.
     
  • The Phase 1 route from London to Birmingham would mean families from the capital can reach Bourneville quicker for days out at Cadbury World. This would bring joy, laughter and non-sedentary activity to the family unit.
     

Non-family-friendly credentials:

  • More families consuming chocolate in Cadbury World would be a public health risk.


Family test: FAIL

 

2013: Royal charter on press regulation

Family-friendly credentials:

  • If the Leveson-recommended press regulator comes in, the only thing left to read in the papers would be the Funday Times, which would be fantastic for children’s cognitive skills and creative faculties.
     

Family test: PASS

 

2014: Bringing in a “Family Test” for all policy

Family-friendly credentials:

  • It will reassure families across Britain that, even though we’ve pretty much finished doing legislation this parliament, we have begun thinking about their best interests in time for the election campaign.
     

Non-family-friendly credentials:

  • It would lead to lists like this.


Family test: FAIL

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Brexit will hike energy prices - progressive campaigners should seize the opportunity

Winter is Coming. 

Friday 24th June 2016 was a beautiful day. Blue sky and highs of 22 degrees greeted Londoners as they awoke to the news that Britain had voted to leave the EU.  

Yet the sunny weather was at odds with the mood of the capital, which was largely in favour of Remain. And even more so with the prospect of an expensive, uncertain and potentially dirty energy future. 

For not only are prominent members of the Leave leadership well known climate sceptics - with Boris Johnson playing down human impact upon the weather, Nigel Farage admitting he doesn’t “have a clue” about global warming, and Owen Paterson advocating scrapping the Climate Change Act altogether - but Brexit looks set to harm more than just our plans to reduce emissions.

Far from delivering the Leave campaign’s promise of a cheaper and more secure energy supply, it is likely that the referendum’s outcome will cause bills to rise and investment in new infrastructure to delay -  regardless of whether or not we opt to stay within Europe’s internal energy market.

Here’s why: 

1. Rising cost of imports

With the UK importing around 50% of our gas supply, any fall in the value of sterling are likely to push up the wholesale price of fuel and drive up charges - offsetting Boris Johnson’s promise to remove VAT on energy bills.

2. Less funding for energy development

Pulling out of the EU will also require us to give up valuable funding. According to a Chatham House report, not only was the UK set to receive €1.9bn for climate change adaptation and risk prevention, but €1.6bn had also been earmarked to support the transition to a low carbon economy.

3.  Investment uncertainty & capital flight

EU countries currently account for over half of all foreign direct investment in UK energy infrastructure. And while the chairman of EDF energy, the French state giant that is building the planned nuclear plant at Hinkley Point, has said Brexit would have “no impact” on the project’s future, Angus Brendan MacNeil, chair of the energy and climate select committee, believes last week’s vote undermines all such certainty; “anything could happen”, he says.

4. Compromised security

According to a report by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (the IEEP), an independent UK stands less chance of securing favourable bilateral deals with non-EU countries. A situation that carries particular weight with regard to Russia, from whom the UK receives 16% of its energy imports.

5. A divided energy supply

Brexiteers have argued that leaving the EU will strengthen our indigenous energy sources. And is a belief supported by some industry officials: “leaving the EU could ultimately signal a more prosperous future for the UK North Sea”, said Peter Searle of Airswift, the global energy workforce provider, last Friday.

However, not only is North Sea oil and gas already a mature energy arena, but the renewed prospect of Scottish independence could yet throw the above optimism into free fall, with Scotland expected to secure the lion’s share of UK offshore reserves. On top of this, the prospect for protecting the UK’s nascent renewable industry is also looking rocky. “Dreadful” was the word Natalie Bennett used to describe the Conservative’s current record on green policy, while a special government audit committee agreed that UK environment policy was likely to be better off within the EU than without.

The Brexiteer’s promise to deliver, in Andrea Leadsom’s words, the “freedom to keep bills down”, thus looks likely to inflict financial pain on those least able to pay. And consumers could start to feel the effects by the Autumn, when the cold weather closes in and the Conservatives, perhaps appropriately, plan to begin Brexit negotiations in earnest.

Those pressing for full withdrawal from EU ties and trade, may write off price hikes as short term pain for long term gain. While those wishing to protect our place within EU markets may seize on them, as they did during referendum campaign, as an argument to maintain the status quo. Conservative secretary of state for energy and climate change, Amber Rudd, has already warned that leaving the internal energy market could cause energy costs “to rocket by at least half a billion pounds a year”.

But progressive forces might be able to use arguments on energy to do even more than this - to set out the case for an approach to energy policy in which economics is not automatically set against ideals.

Technological innovation could help. HSBC has predicted that plans for additional interconnectors to the continent and Ireland could lower the wholesale market price for baseload electricity by as much as 7% - a physical example of just how linked our international interests are. 

Closer to home, projects that prioritise reducing emission through tackling energy poverty -  from energy efficiency schemes to campaigns for publicly owned energy companies - may provide a means of helping heal the some of the deeper divides that the referendum campaign has exposed.

If the failure of Remain shows anything, it’s that economic arguments alone will not always win the day and that a sense of justice – or injustice – is still equally powerful. Luckily, if played right, the debate over energy and the environment might yet be able to win on both.

 

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.