With the barren policy landscape of summer recess, the election just nine months away, and military involvement in a foreign conflict to be evasive about, David Cameron’s planned announcement for today makes perfect sense.
Introducing a new package of “family friendly” measures, he will assert that every new domestic policy “will be examined for its impact on the family”. His idea is that, come the return of policymaking in October, every new proposal should be put to a “family test”.
This is at once an oddly prescriptive and entirely vague measure, and one that has already been garnering some cynicism among the commentariat. For example, Sky News’ Anushka Asthana tweeted this morning, “Is it just me or are they bringing in the family test for policy, after all policymaking done?”, and Josh Lowe of Prospect magazine was more forthright: “How in Christ's name do you apply a family test to ‘every single domestic policy’?”, he asked in a tweet, “‘Well, this new pesticide might be safe and effective, but how can I licence it until I know how it will affect the sanctity of marriage?’”
Cameron is expected to suggest that government departments up until now have not focused enough on the impact on families that their policies would have, and will declare that from now on, “every single domestic policy that government comes up with will be examined for its impact on the family”.
He will say in a speech:
I want every government department to be held to account for the impact of their policies on the family…
You get a whole load of policy decisions which take no account of the family and sometimes make these things worse.
Whether it's the benefits system incentivising couples to live apart or penalising those who go out to work or whether it's excessive bureaucracy preventing loving couples from adopting children with no family at all.
We can't go on having government taking decisions like this which ignore the impact on the family.
I said previously that we would introduce a family test into government. Now that test is being formalised as part of the impact assessment for all domestic policies.
His new “family-friendly” programme will also involve doubling the relationship counselling budget to £19.5m, the expansion of assistance for families struggling with unemployment and debt, and increasing funding for councils to help them speed up the adoptions process.
As the BBC’s Iain Watson points out in his report, the PM knows that not enough voters see the Conservative party as family friendly, and also that his party is less popular among women.
Clearly Cameron’s current focus on the family is from thinking electorally, as why apply a “family test” to policy when this parliament’s legislation-making days are pretty much over?
There is also an irony here that if he were to apply this new assessment to some of the coalition’s existing policies retrospectively, then they wouldn’t pass – the “Bedroom Tax”, for example.
Also, as the test will apparently be a formal responsibility of government departments, is this not just another bureaucratic headache for Whitehall officials to add to their load?
Cameron’s attempt to win support from families may be a direction taken out of political expediency, but the “family test” is just an absurd bit of summer recess stalling.