Scrap the rape clause

No woman should have to prove she was raped to be able to claim child tax credits. I have said it before and will continue to say it, because it is a travesty that in 2016 a women should be faced with this.

This all started because of a small, almost innocuous sentence, hidden away on page 88 of the Tories 2015 budget, which related to the UK government’s plan to restrict the child element of tax credits and Universal Credit to the first two children:

“The Department of Work and Pensions and HMRC will develop protections for women who have a third child as a result of rape, or other exceptional circumstances.”

The more I thought about this, the more furious I became. Rape is a very serious crime, but yet one of the most under-reported and under-convicted crimes there is. For many women, it is traumatic beyond description and it is something they feel is shameful.

How vile that this government would consider putting a woman, who may already feel extremely vulnerable, in the position where she had to confess to a government official that her child had been born as a result of rape. How stigmatising, for that woman, for that child and for the family. Piling humiliation on top of pain is not the essence of ‘protection’.

The DWP and HMRC are not known for being organisations that will take you at your word; the casework I have seen in my office gives me no confidence in either the competence or the sensitivity of these departments. So what hope does a woman in such vulnerable circumstances have? Will they accept her word, or will only a criminal conviction do? There has been some suggestion that a social worker or a GP could vouch for a woman, but there are many reasons why that may not be feasible, not least in smaller communities.

I am heartened to see others questioning this policy, and I am grateful for the support of the Public and Commercial Services union, who came out against the plans and raised questions about the delivery of the policy by civil servants.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child have also highlighted the limiting of tax credits, alongside the package of Tory welfare reforms that are inflicting serious harm on those in society who are most in need of support.

The rape clause is the most alarming part of this Tory government’s proposals, but there are also important issues around the operation of the two child restriction in tax credits. If twins come after an initial single birth, they would be covered, but if twins came first in the family, no subsequent children would be eligible. People from backgrounds such as religious or ethnic minorities who may traditionally have larger families are not covered by any kind of exemption.

It has been well over a year since the 2015 UK Budget, and neither David Cameron’s or Theresa May’s new government are any closer to offering a clear explanation on how this policy will actually work. So the SNP’s message to Theresa May’s new government is clear – this policy is unworkable, untenable and it has to go.