Campaigners slam UK Government over introduction of 'rape clause'
Under the amendment, mothers seeking to retain tax credits for a third child will be obliged to fill out an eight-page form requiring them to name the child they conceived through rape
Tax credit form - credit: David Linden
The UK Government has come under fire from campaigners and opposition parties following the introduction of the so-called ‘rape clause’, which restricts tax credits to the first two children in a family, unless it can be proved a third child was conceived through rape.
Campaigners reacted in anger after the move to restrict Child Tax Credit was introduced through a statutory instrument, allowing ministers to enact it without parliamentary approval.
Under the amendment, mothers seeking to retain tax credits for a third child will be obliged to fill out an eight-page form requiring them to name the child they conceived through rape.
With no public sector organisation or charity in Scotland currently willing to act as a third party certifier for the policy, campaigners have also warned that women will be unable to apply for an exemption, even if they attempted to.
Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, told Holyrood: “There is no way you can make this policy ethically justifiable and at the moment it is practically implementable.”
Opposition parties rounded on the UK Government, with SNP MP Alison Thewliss describing the policy as “horrifying”.
She said: “Analysis also shows that well over 200,000 children will now move into relative poverty as a result of this deeply flawed two child limit. We should be reducing child poverty, not adding hundreds of thousands more to this miserable statistic.
Referring to the amendment on the so-called rape clause, Thewliss said: "This is utterly appalling and will only seek to make rape survivors relive the trauma and brutality of the sexual violence they experienced at the hands of their perpetrator. It must be one of the most inhumane and barbaric policies ever to emanate from Whitehall.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives told Holyrood: "We believe women who have been raped and, as a consequence, have a child should be granted an exemption from these benefit restrictions.
"That's exactly what this measure does in the most sensitive way possible."
But campaigners warned the policy will force women to choose between safety and feeding their children.
Both Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid have warned they will not comply with the policy.
Scott said: “This policy is based on the presumption that it is okay to coerce disclosure about rape and sexual assault. The idea that in order for a mother to get the child benefit she needs to put food on the table for her kids, that it is okay for the Government to say ‘this is a compassionate policy because we don’t want to take her benefit away’ but in order to get it she then has to name this child, who she is then going to raise, as the victim of rape.
“This is a policy which is only an exemption in name only – because how many women are going to do this?”
“The DWP published the guidance for this at 12.15am this morning. There is no public sector organisation or charity in Scotland that has agreed to be a third party certifier for this policy. So even if a woman wanted to apply for this exemption, the DWP has absolutely no infrastructure in place in Scotland with which to do it. They should not be implementing this policy until there is a way for women to access this benefit in Scotland.”
“Anyone who knows anything about domestic abuse knows that the most dangerous time for a woman and her children is when she attempts to leave the relationship, and this exemption will only be paid to women if they are no longer living with their perpetrator, so they are essentially being asked to choose between safety and putting food on the table for their kids.”
Thewliss accused the Government of introducing the policy without first providing sexual violence awareness training for healthcare professionals and social workers.
She added: “Ministers have ducked and dived at every turn to try and avoid talking about this policy, presumably because they know it's so unpalatable. The UK Government railroaded this through Parliament using a statutory instrument which meant MPs couldn't vote upon or debate it.
“It's all well and good that the UK government has now conceded that this will need to be referred to a Delegated Legislation Committee when Parliament returns after the Easter recess. However, the fact remains, the policy is now live and will cause untold distress. The UK Government must step in today and suspend this right now before serious damage is done.”
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