No woman should have to prove she was raped to be able to claim child tax credits. It’s a dramatic statement, and it’s one that has raised many questions – so perhaps it’s best to go back to the start.
Hidden away on page 88 of Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget in July was a small, almost innocuous sentence, which related to the Government’s plan to restrict the child element of tax credits and Universal Credit – child benefit, essentially – to the first two children. These restrictions would mean that women who had a third or subsequent child would lose that element of financial support. The Chancellor’s budget said:
“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”.
Rape is a very serious crime, but yet one of the most under-reported and under-convicted crimes there is. For too many women, it is a traumatic experience beyond description and it is something they feel is shameful. How awful that the UK Government would consider putting a woman, who may already feel extremely vulnerable, in the position where she had to explain 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 that family. Piling humiliation on top of pain is not the essence of protection that should lie at the very heart of our social security system.
Since the Chancellor’s budget, I have been campaigning to raise awareness of this policy and to have it scrapped completely. So following the announcement in the July Budget, myself and other SNP MPs have asked the UK Government no less than nine times how this abhorrent policy will work in practice. Leaving aside the moral implications of the policy for a moment, it is deeply shocking that the UK Government cannot tell us how they expect the burden of proof will be established and how it expects this policy to work in practice.
It is also remains unclear if this policy is compatible with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, so this week I decided to tackle this issue by writing directly to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon. The UN has already severely criticised some of the UK Government’s worst policies, such as the bedroom tax, and I am hopeful that they will similarly recognise this callous policy as discriminatory and call for it to be suspended immediately.
I launched the Scrap the Rape Clause campaign to lay bare the brutal implications of the government’s policy and call on the UK Government to unequivocally scrap the rape clause and the accompanying two child policy. The campaign has received support from multiple women’s organisations, such as Engender Scotland and Glasgow Women’s Aid, and from MPs representing nine parties across the House of Commons (including the Conservatives).
As part of the campaign, a petition against the policy was launched which has now attracted more than 10,000 signatures, meaning that the Government must issue an official response. I now expect a full explanation from the UK Government of the moral and practical aspects of the rape clause and their two child policy.
With the SNP and other parties uniting to tackle the rape clause, the campaign to scrap it is gathering pace and the message to the UK Government is clear: this policy is untenable, it’s unworkable and it has to go.