Campaigning MP takes rape clause fight to United Nations

Alison Thewliss MP with a letter to Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, has been asked to investigate whether the UK Government’s proposed rape clause and two child policy breaches the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the UK signed in 1990.

Glasgow Central MP, Alison Thewliss, has today written to the United Nations in New York and asked for a formal investigation into the Government’s proposed policy, which is due to come into force next year.

The SNP politician believes that the UK Government’s “medieval” proposals could breach at least five of the fifty-four articles in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“It is now almost eight months since the UK Government announced its medieval two child policy and rape clause. Despite repeated questions in Parliament, letters to Ministers and a petition that attracted thousands of signatures, we still have no information from this cruel Tory Government as to how they plan to implement this pernicious policy.

“Everyone knows that that the two child policy and rape clause is unworkable, immoral and is now potentially in contravention of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which the UK signed up to almost twenty five years ago.

“It is now time for the United Nations to step in and shine a very bright light onto this cruel and thoughtless Government, who appear hell bent on making life as difficult as possible for ordinary people.

“It is clear that, over the last eight months, the Tories had hoped this campaign would be quietly dropped but it’s just not happening. The Government simply cannot be allowed to get away with a policy that is tantamount to social engineering.”

Cross party letter urges PM to scrap the rape clause

MPs representing nine parties in the House of Commons – including the Conservatives – have signed a joint letter to the Prime Minister calling upon the Government to ‘unequivocally’ scrap the tax credits rape clause.

The Government’s proposals would require a woman, who has a third child as the result of rape, to justify her position to a Government official in order to avoid losing tax credits. The plan to restrict child tax credits to two children for new claimants is due to commence in 2017.

SNP MP Alison Thewliss first identified the issue in July 2015 during the Government’s summer budget. She has now coordinated a cross party letter from MPs representing no less than nine parties in the House of Commons.

In addition to Alison Thewliss’ name, the letter is also signed by Andrew Percy, Conservative MP for Brigg and Goole; Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley; Liberal Democrat MP and former Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, Tom Brake, as well as MPs from the DUP, Green Party, UUP, Plaid Cymru and the SDLP.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“I am incredibly grateful to colleagues from across the House of Commons who have chosen to stand with us as part of the campaign to scrap the rape clause.

“The fact that MPs from all the major parties in the House have put their differences aside to unite on this important issue should, in itself, send a powerful message to the Prime Minister that his Government must unequivocally scrap the rape clause.

“I myself have already raised this issue on the floor of the House numerous times and Ministers’ responses to simple questions have been robotic at best and heartless at worst. We need to seriously ask ourselves, do we really want to be a country that summons raped women to Government offices and tell them to ‘prove it’ in order to get tax credits? Is that really how twenty-first century Britain wants to be behave?

“I am sure that, deep down, David Cameron also doesn’t want us to continue down this precarious road to stigmatisation. The Prime Minister must therefore show leadership and today unequivocally drop plans for a rape clause on tax credits”.

MP raises pensioner winter fuel payment debacle

Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, is calling upon the UK Government to urgently review the computer system which allocates winter fuel payments to pensioners.

A recent constituency case raised with Ms Thewliss suggests that pensioners living in properties, such as tenements and tower blocks, are losing out because the system is – wrongly – factoring in other people in the building when calculating the total winter fuel payment due.

In Ms Thewliss’ constituent’s case, this resulted in one pensioner only receiving half of his winter fuel payment because the system, wrongly, counted other residents in his close when, in fact, the constituent in question lives on his own. Rather than receiving the £200 payment, he only received half, which was eventually rectified following his MP’s intervention.

The Glasgow Central MP has written to Work & Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, to ask for a full investigation into the system.

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, said:

“My constituent’s case highlights a serious anomaly within the UK Government’s winter fuel payment scheme, whereby potentially thousands of pensioners are being underpaid their winter fuel payments. All of this is because the Government’s system doesn’t always recognise buildings with multiple flats. I’ve written to Iain Duncan Smith to ask for a full investigation into this issue and to specifically ask for an urgent review of the payment system which seems to discriminate against buildings with more than one residence.

“My own research shows that Glasgow alone has over 220,000 properties which comprise of flats, tenements and tower blocks. In my own constituency, over 45,000 properties are part of multi-dwelling properties. Now, of course, not all of those properties will be entitled to winter fuel payments but it does give you an idea of the scale of this problem in a city which is, after all, renowned for its red sandstone tenements.

“Figures from Age UK show that an eye watering £3.7 billion in benefits already goes unclaimed by elderly people in the UK and I’m concerned that this is another example of older people not getting what they’re due.

“As temperatures continue to plummet this January, we simply cannot continue on with the perverse scenario, whereby pensioners living in flats are possibly being undercut because of an anomaly in the DWP’s payment system.”

The rape clause – blog post

(The below post was published in The Telegraph on 19th January 2016)

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:

“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”.

I read the sentence again. I re-read it. I showed it to the colleague sitting next to me. What did this actually mean? How would DWP and HMRC prove that a child was borne of rape?

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. It exists in abusive relationships, it exists in marriage. For many women, 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 an 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”.

I’ve raised this with Ministers at every level of Government, including the Prime Minister himself.

For all the questions my colleagues and I have asked since the July budget, there has yet to be an answer as to how this will work, and particularly the burden of proof.

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. What hope does a woman in such vulnerable circumstances have? Will they accept her word, or will only a criminal conviction do? We don’t yet know.

However, the real problem at the heart of this is not even the rape clause; it’s the two child policy.

For me, it’s tantamount to social engineering. It makes children a financial commodity. It passes judgement and stigmatises.

It doesn’t respect the disproportionate impact on those of particular faiths or backgrounds where larger families are the norm. It’s also economic madness, as we need more children to counter our ageing population. And it runs counter to our Government’s obligations to treat children equally under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The two child policy has not yet been fully explained or justified by this Government, other than in the most tabloid of terms. I’ve heard some suggest in carelessly callous language that you should only have the children you can afford. It does not take account of the fact that you may well be able to “afford” three children when you had them, but not if your circumstances change: what if your partner dies, if you become disabled, if your marriage breaks up?

What happens in the case where families come together with existing children from previous relationships?

The Budget claimed multiple births would be protected, but not at which stage; if your first two children are twins, will the third still be eligible, or only if that happens the other way around?

These questions and more have been asked by MPs since July, but answers have not been forthcoming.

The campaign to scrap the rape clause is gathering pace and many people are already signing the petition, which had almost 6,000 names at the last count. This should, in itself, send a message to the Government that this policy is untenable.

I very much hope that the Government has realised the mess it has got itself into, and scrap not only this outdated and potentially damaging rape clause – but the whole two child policy itself.

Press release – Campaign to Scrap the Rape Clause moves up a gear

Alison Thewliss MP joins supporters at the launch of her campaign to scrap the rape clause

Campaigners against the UK Government’s proposed rape clause have stepped up their campaign by launching a hard hitting poster campaign and website, calling upon the Government to ‘scrap the rape clause’.

The Government’s proposals would require a woman, who has a third child as the result of rape, to justify her position in order to avoid losing tax credits. The plan to restrict child tax credits to two children for new claimants is due to commence in 2017.

SNP MP Alison Thewliss first identified the issue in July 2015 during the Government’s summer budget.

Commenting as she launched the latest stage of the campaign in Glasgow City Centre, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“We think the policy on limiting tax credits to the first two children is appalling and tantamount to social engineering, but to put a woman who has been raped in a position where she needs to declare that to a government official is just abhorrent. This also stigmatises the child involved, which is surely against the UN convention on the rights of the child. This proposal has no place in the twenty-first century and must be dropped immediately.

“I’ve raised this issue on the floor of the House of Commons on no less than nine occasions – yet the Government still can’t explain how it will work and remains hell bent on pressing ahead with this draconian procedure.

“With just two weeks left to run on this important petition, we are urging as many people as possible to visit and add their voice to the many others calling upon the Government to drop this appalling proposal.”

Angela Devine, Manager of Glasgow Women’s Aid, said:

“Glasgow Women’s Aid is pleased to support this coordinated campaign calling for the Government to scrap the proposed rape clause for tax credits.

“As an organisation offering refuge and support to some of the most vulnerable women and children in our city, we know the damaging effect this clause could have on women who have already endured trauma.

“It is not uncommon for children to be the product of rape or coercive control and women should never be placed in the humiliating position of appealing to the DWP for benefits.

“We would ask whether DWP staff will be trained to deal with sensitive disclosures and to signpost women to the correct support services.

“Any just society has a moral obligation to care for its poor and vulnerable with children at the heart of this obligation, regardless of their provenance.

“We as an organisation see this policy as an attempt to control and thereby undermine the already vulnerable position of women, children and young people within society.

“We reject these changes as untenable and discriminatory.”

The Trade Union Bill

I met with the EIS at my constituency office and pledged my opposition to the Trade Union Bill. I believe that this Bill threatens the fundamental rights to organise and bargain collectively, as well as placing undue restrictions on strike ballots and social media communication by trade union members. ‪#‎killthebill

Keep Me Posted

I’ve offered my support to the Keep Me Posted campaign, which campaigns for people to receive paper bills and statements from companies without charge. It is important that my constituents are able to choose how they receive important financial information from service providers, including banks and utility companies.

Moreover, in many areas of my constituency broadband access and uptake is below the national average for Scotland. Whilst the Scottish Government is working to improve digital literacy and provide superfast broadband, the option for paper bills and statements should remain available and there should be no financial penalty attached to receiving paper statements, particularly for elderly and vulnerable people.

Stay safe this Hallowe’en

Fancy dress safety eventWith Hallow’een coming up this week, many families will be buying costumes and getting prepared for parties. There’s also a campaign underway to highlight fire safety, following the terrible incident last year when Claudia Winkleman’s daughter was badly injured when her costume caught fire.

Please check and make sure that the costumes you choose meet the highest possible fire safety standards, and consider using LED candles instead of tealights. It only takes a second for some of these costumes to catch light.

Have fun, but stay safe this hallow’een.

Wear it Pink!

Alison Thewliss MP (3)Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, has shown her support for women with breast cancer by dressing up in pink and encouraging her constituents to take part in Breast Cancer Now’s flagship fundraiser, wear it pink, tomorrow (Friday 23rd October).

‘wear it pink’, the UK’s biggest pink fundraiser, calls on supporters across the country to ditch the day-to-day colours and pull on some pink to raise money for Breast Cancer Now’s life-saving breast cancer research.

The Glasgow Central MP joined fellow parliamentarians in wearing it pink in Westminster recently to encourage people across the UK to get involved. Now in its 14th year, wear it pink raises over £2 million each year for world-class research into breast cancer, and this year it is back and bigger, brighter and bolder than ever before.

Anyone can take part, whether in school, at work or at home. All you have to do is wear something pink and donate whatever you can.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“Right now breast cancer is at a tipping point. Every year in the UK around 50,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and sadly nearly 12,000 women still lose their lives to the disease. This is why we all must come together to support Breast Cancer Now’s cutting-edge research, and, in wear it pink, there is a fun and simple way for everyone to get involved.

“I am particularly passionate about standing up for the women and families affected by the disease in Glasgow and I am very proud to take part in wear it pink. I hope everyone in the local community will join me in wearing it pink on Friday 23 October and show their support for Breast Cancer Now.”