Calling benefits exception 'rape clause' is 'an oversimplification', says UK welfare minister
A welfare minister has told an MP to stop referring to a benefits policy about children who are the product of rape the “rape clause”, saying it is an “oversimplification”.
The SNP’s Alison Thewliss described a letter from Will Quince criticising her use of language as “ridiculous” and “just deflection from a more serious issue”.
Speaking to PoliticsHome she said ministers should either accept the policy for what it is or seek to change it, and not focus on how MPs describe it.
Asked if she will stop using the term ‘rape clause’, which the government calls the “non consensual sex exemption”, she replied: “Certainly not, particularly as the minister seems embarrassed by it, as he should be.”
The term was coined after changes to the policy on child benefits in 2017 meant that families could not claim money for more than two children, but there were exceptions, including where the third or additional children were conceived through rape.
But as Thewliss explains, it requires women to prove to the Department for Work and Pensions that they were raped, and has long been criticised by charities and campaigners.
She said womens' organisations in Scotland refused to have anything to do with it, because “they said no, this just traumatises people, this makes it more difficult for people because they'd have to relive that trauma in order to get benefits they should always have been entitled to”.
To receive the benefit women are forced to fill out a form, which uses the term “non consensual sex exemption”, and Thewliss adds: “This is language that they had put to it after I'd started calling it the rape clause.
“Their language came because they had to try and find some way of framing this, because they had to produce a form, they had to put language on the front of that form, they had to write it into the regulations.
“But the language doesn't disguise what it is; forcing somebody who has had a child as a result of rape, to prove that in order to claim benefits. And that's as basic as it gets with it.”
She has long campaigned to see the system overhauled, which she argues is unfair for other reasons, and wrote to Quince - the minister for welfare delivery - about a report from abortion charity the British Pregnancy Advisory Service that showed the “two-child limit” was a key factor in many women’s decisions to terminate their pregnancy during the pandemic.
His reply did not address this issue, but said: “As you are aware, since 6 April 2017 families are able to claim support for up to two children, and there may be further entitlement for other children if they were born before 6 April 2017, or if an exception applies. The exceptions for certain groups recognises that some claimants are not able to make the same choices about the number of children in that family.
“Exceptions apply to third and subsequent children who are additional children in a multiple birth, an extra amount is payable for all children in a multiple birth, other than the first child, or they are likely to have been born as a result of non consensual conception.
“I would ask my honourable friend to refrain from referring to the exception as the rape clause.
“This oversimplification excludes others who may be able to claim this exception, including those who were in a controlling or coercive relationship at the time of conception. This can include survivors of domestic abuse.”
Thewliss said: “It's a very serious issue, and I've written to the minister about this because I've had long standing concerns about this policy in the first place, and this is a particularly worrying aspect.
“And the letter that I got back really doesn't address this it all, or look at any way of kind of dealing with it at all, it doesn't acknowledge it really.
“It's a harmful policy, it will force people into poverty or into making choices that we would otherwise take, and abortion being the most serious of those.
“And for the government just to dodge it, and try and say that there was some issue with my language [...] it's just ridiculous.”