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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The Autumn Statement proved it – we need a real alternative to austerity, now

Theresa May’s Tories have missed their chance to rescue the British economy.

After six wasted years of failed Conservative austerity measures, Philip Hammond had the opportunity last month in the Autumn Statement to change course and put in place the economic policies that would deliver greater prosperity, and make sure it was fairly shared.

Instead, he chose to continue with cuts to public services and in-work benefits while failing to deliver the scale of investment needed to secure future prosperity. The sense of betrayal is palpable.

The headline figures are grim. An analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that real wages will not recover their 2008 levels even after 2020. The Tories are overseeing a lost decade in earnings that is, in the words Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, “dreadful” and unprecedented in modern British history.

Meanwhile, the Treasury’s own analysis shows the cuts falling hardest on the poorest 30 per cent of the population. The Office for Budget Responsibility has reported that it expects a £122bn worsening in the public finances over the next five years. Of this, less than half – £59bn – is due to the Tories’ shambolic handling of Brexit. Most of the rest is thanks to their mishandling of the domestic economy.

 

Time to invest

The Tories may think that those people who are “just about managing” are an electoral demographic, but for Labour they are our friends, neighbours and the people we represent. People in all walks of life needed something better from this government, but the Autumn Statement was a betrayal of the hopes that they tried to raise beforehand.

Because the Tories cut when they should have invested, we now have a fundamentally weak economy that is unprepared for the challenges of Brexit. Low investment has meant that instead of installing new machinery, or building the new infrastructure that would support productive high-wage jobs, we have an economy that is more and more dependent on low-productivity, low-paid work. Every hour worked in the US, Germany or France produces on average a third more than an hour of work here.

Labour has different priorities. We will deliver the necessary investment in infrastructure and research funding, and back it up with an industrial strategy that can sustain well-paid, secure jobs in the industries of the future such as renewables. We will fight for Britain’s continued tariff-free access to the single market. We will reverse the tax giveaways to the mega-rich and the giant companies, instead using the money to make sure the NHS and our education system are properly funded. In 2020 we will introduce a real living wage, expected to be £10 an hour, to make sure every job pays a wage you can actually live on. And we will rebuild and transform our economy so no one and no community is left behind.

 

May’s missing alternative

This week, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, gave an important speech in which he hit the proverbial nail on the head. He was completely right to point out that societies need to redistribute the gains from trade and technology, and to educate and empower their citizens. We are going through a lost decade of earnings growth, as Carney highlights, and the crisis of productivity will not be solved without major government investment, backed up by an industrial strategy that can deliver growth.

Labour in government is committed to tackling the challenges of rising inequality, low wage growth, and driving up Britain’s productivity growth. But it is becoming clearer each day since Theresa May became Prime Minister that she, like her predecessor, has no credible solutions to the challenges our economy faces.

 

Crisis in Italy

The Italian people have decisively rejected the changes to their constitution proposed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, with nearly 60 per cent voting No. The Italian economy has not grown for close to two decades. A succession of governments has attempted to introduce free-market policies, including slashing pensions and undermining rights at work, but these have had little impact.

Renzi wanted extra powers to push through more free-market reforms, but he has now resigned after encountering opposition from across the Italian political spectrum. The absence of growth has left Italian banks with €360bn of loans that are not being repaid. Usually, these debts would be written off, but Italian banks lack the reserves to be able to absorb the losses. They need outside assistance to survive.

 

Bail in or bail out

The oldest bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi di Siena, needs €5bn before the end of the year if it is to avoid collapse. Renzi had arranged a financing deal but this is now under threat. Under new EU rules, governments are not allowed to bail out banks, like in the 2008 crisis. This is intended to protect taxpayers. Instead, bank investors are supposed to take a loss through a “bail-in”.

Unusually, however, Italian bank investors are not only big financial institutions such as insurance companies, but ordinary households. One-third of all Italian bank bonds are held by households, so a bail-in would hit them hard. And should Italy’s banks fail, the danger is that investors will pull money out of banks across Europe, causing further failures. British banks have been reducing their investments in Italy, but concerned UK regulators have asked recently for details of their exposure.

John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor


John McDonnell is Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington and has been shadow chancellor since September 2015. 

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump