Campaigning MP welcomes Judicial Review of two child policy

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

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, has today hailed the efforts of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) who have been granted permission to apply for judicial review of the two child limit.

The decision follows a claim made by CPAG to the High Court against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, challenging the DWP’s decision to introduce the two child limit in April 2017. The rule change now means child tax credits and universal credit claims are restricted to the first two children in a family.

In addition, the policy also requires tax credit claimants, whose third or subsequent child was conceived as a result of rape, to prove this to social workers and health professionals in order to qualify for an exemption – a move that has been categorically denounced by faith leaders, women’s welfare groups, trade unions and child poverty campaigners alike.

Alison Thewliss MP – who first exposed the policy – said:

“I welcome the work that the Child Poverty Action Group have done to put pressure on the UK Government, following the introduction of the callous and heartless two child policy earlier this year.

“The sad truth is, independent analysis shows that in excess of 200,000 children will move into relative poverty as a result of the two child policy. Indeed, those families who now choose to have a third child could be £50,000 worse off under these new rules than they might have been previously.

“Forcing women whose third child was conceived as a result of rape to relive their past trauma, simply in order to make a claim for benefit, is an appalling way to treat women and it’s hardly surprising that ministers have done everything in their power to avoid being drawn into discussion on this issue.

“With the prospect of a judicial review on the horizon, I will continue to urge the UK Government to scrap the two child policy and rape clause altogether”.

Campaigning MP: Northern Ireland MPs must unite to scrap rape clause

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

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, has called on Northern Ireland’s MPs to join her campaign to scrap the UK Government’s two child policy and rape clause, following a rally against the policy in Belfast today.

The campaigning MP spoke at the rally, which was hosted by Reclaim the Agenda and Women’s Aid Federation of Northern Ireland, and highlighted the risk that existing criminal laws place on vulnerable women and third party professionals for failing to disclose that the crime of rape had taken place.

Ms Thewliss is now writing to every MP in Northern Ireland to seek their support for her campaign to end the UK Government’s abhorrent two child policy and rape clause.
Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“Women in Northern Ireland sent a clear message to the UK Government today – the rape clause stigmatises vulnerable women, places them and professionals at risk of criminalisation and will cause greater poverty and misery, both in Northern Ireland and across the UK.

“Women in abusive relationships in Northern Ireland should not have to choose either entering the criminal justice system or struggling to make ends meet to support their families. The chilling effect of the rape clause on rape victims will discourage women from speaking out about the horrific crimes committed against them, which no-one, regardless of their party political persuasion, wants to see happen in a civilised society.

“MPs from all major political parties in Northern Ireland must now combine efforts to end the suffering that women and families have endured from changes to child tax credit entitlement. With the UK Government now reliant on the support of Northern Ireland MPs to survive votes in the House of Commons, it’s time for a renewed cross party effort to consign the poorly thought-out and abhorrent rape clause to the Downing Street dustbin.”

Campaigning MP to address rape clause rally in Northern Ireland

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

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, will be joining campaigners in Northern Ireland today (Thursday 21st September) to protest the introduction of the UK Government’s two child policy and rape clause.

The campaigning MP will join the Women’s Aid Federation of Northern Ireland and Reclaim the Agenda in Belfast to highlight the stigmatisation of vulnerable women by the rape clause and two child policy and to call on all of Northern Ireland’s MPs to join her campaign to scrap the two child policy and rape clause.

Under Section 5 of the Criminal Law Act (Northern Ireland) 1967, it is a crime to fail to report a criminal offence or to provide information which leads to the conviction of a crime. Third party professionals, such as doctors, midwives, social workers and support workers, could potentially face a prison sentence of up to 10 years if they fail to disclose that a woman has been raped when completing the rape clause form – even if doing so means that women are placed in further danger of violence and sexual assault from their abusive partners.

Speaking ahead of the rally, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“Since its introduction in April, the rape clause has caused untold harm and distress across the UK. The cruelty of forcing women to relive the worst ordeal of their life, just in order to make a claim for benefit, shows the morally repugnant depths to which the UK Government has plumbed.

“As if this wasn’t bad enough, women in Northern Ireland face a very specific risk under existing laws, which requires crimes such as rape to be reported to the police by the third party referrer. Women in abusive relationships are therefore placed in an appalling situation where either they are forced into the criminal justice system or they will struggle to afford to pay bills and put food on the table.

“The rape clause also puts professionals in Northern Ireland in an incredibly difficult position, as they face the prospect of their reputations and careers being destroyed if they do not report that a woman has been raped to the police. It’s no coincidence that a growing number of trade unions and women’s aid groups have refused to endorse the third party referral mechanism for claims made under the rape clause, given the risks it presents to their members.

“The rape clause could criminalise incredibly vulnerable women and the professionals who would wish to support them in Northern Ireland. I’ll be asking all of Northern Ireland’s MPs to join me in demanding an end to the two child policy and rape clause and the misery and poverty it has created for families across the UK.”

MP to visit Blackpool to highlight cuts to breastfeeding support services

Alison Thewliss MP, Chair of the UK Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Infant Feeding and Inequalities, will be chairing a public meeting in Blackpool today to discuss drastic funding cuts to breastfeeding support services in the area.

Ms Thewliss will meet with residents and local campaigners to discuss the decision of Blackpool County Council to close down the Star Buddies peer support service in July 2017, after 10 years of providing one-to-one support to breastfeeding mums in Blackpool. Ms Thewliss will host a public meeting, where she will be joined by residents, local MPs and breastfeeding support groups.

The peer support service paired new mums with mums who had experience with breastfeeding their babies. The service covered the first few weeks and months of the baby’s life, with scheduled visits before, and up to 6 weeks after, the baby is born. As well as providing reliable and informative advice to new mums, regular visits to the new mums by peer support volunteers helped the new mums to monitor babies’ progress and identify any problems that may arise at an early stage.

The closure of the Star Buddies peer support service has been met with serious concern by campaigners and health professionals in the NHS. Figures released by Public Health England reveal that Blackpool has below average breastfeeding rates, with 61.6% of mothers initiating breastfeeding within 48 hours of their babies being born, compared with 74.3% for England as a whole.

Commenting prior to her visit, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“The closure of peer support services for breastfeeding in Blackpool has left many people understandably concerned about the quality and level of support available for new mums who are taking their first steps into parenthood.

“Mums need access to reliable sources of information in order to make the best decisions for feeding their babies and understanding what works for them for feeding their babies. Drawing on the knowledge of mums who have breastfed their babies within the first few weeks of a baby’s life provides valuable guidance and support at what can be a daunting and stressful period for new mums.

“The APPG has heard evidence of the positive impact that peer support services like Star Buddies can have on the lives of new mums. I am keen to recognise the efforts of those volunteers who have dedicated their time to run the service in Blackpool and challenge the decision of the Council to close an effective, integrated service which made an important contribution to improving breastfeeding rates.”

MP slams UK Government over delays for museum funding

Alison Thewliss MP sitting at her desk in Parliament

Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, has today that museums across the UK are losing out on thousands of pounds of funding due to delays in processing VAT refunds by the UK Government.

The VAT (Refund of Tax to Museums and Galleries) (Amendment) Order 2017, which provides for VAT refunds for musems and art galleries, was first announced in the 2016 Spring Budget. Over a year later, and despite Parliament sitting for over 5 weeks since the election, the legislation has still not been enacted by Parliament.

At Business Questions, Ms Thewliss called on Government Ministers today to bring the VAT relief scheme into operation as soon as possible. A motion has also been tabled, signed by MPs from across the House of Commons with affected museums in their constituencies, to call on the UK Government to put the draft law on the statute book immediately.

Speaking after Business Questions, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“Museums and art galleries across Scotland and the UK have unique and specialist collections which enrich our culture and heritage. With incomes for culture and the arts facing swingeing cuts from the UK Government, the VAT relief scheme is increasingly important to allow museums to devote more resources to educating and informing the public.

“The weakness of the UK Government is clear for all to see – not only have they had to ditch many planned Bills following the Prime Minister’s botched election gamble, it now transpires that they are unable to get simple, uncontroversial statutory instruments through Parliament quickly.

“Museums and art galleries across the UK are suffering from the dithering at the heart of Theresa May’s weak and wobbly Government. The Government must act now to honour the applications made for VAT refunds and provide certainty for hard-pressed museums and art galleries across the UK.”

Local MP slams callous decision to close Bridgeton JobCentre

Alison Thewliss MP sitting at her desk in Parliament

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, has condemned today’s (Thursday) decision by the UK Government’s to close Bridgeton JobCentre, leaving only one JobCentre office in the East End of Glasgow.

The UK Government published a statement confirming that Bridgeton JobCentre, along with 6 other JobCentres in Glasgow, will be closed from 31st March 2018. The statement was released shortly after the responses to the Government’s consultation on the closure of the JobCentre were published, which demonstrated significant opposition to the closure proposals. 64% of the responses expressed concerns that local services in Bridgeton would suffer as a result of closing Bridgeton JobCentre and that jobseekers would find it more difficult to make ends meet due to increased travel costs to other JobCentres.

Glasgow has been targeted disproportionate cuts to DWP offices, with over 50% of the DWP estate, including JobCentres and support offices, earmarked for closure by the UK Government. Local Jobseekers will now need to travel over three miles to attend appointments at Shettleston JobCentre – something that 79% of consultation responses highlighted as a concern in their submissions to the Government’s own consultation.

The decision will also put considerable pressure on JobCentre staff – the full extent of which is unclear as Ministers have previously admitted, in responses to written questions tabled by Ms Thewliss, that they do not know how many people currently use Bridgeton JobCentre.

Commenting on the decision, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“The UK Government’s decision to close Bridgeton JobCentre is yet another slap in the face to the East End of Glasgow. For constituents who are already struggling, paying bus fares to get to mandatory JobCentre appointments will be an extra burden. Increased travel times will also put people at increased risk of falling foul of the Tories’ brutal sanctions regime.

“Ministers have admitted that they have no idea how many people rely on Bridgeton JobCentre, and not a single Minister visited Bridgeton JobCentre before the decision was taken to close it. Now they have decided to ignore the results of the consultation and sneak out a written statement on the closures, denying MPs an opportunity to hold Ministers to account in Parliament.

“Today’s callous decision shows that the Tories will continue to treat the people of Glasgow with contempt. I will be making every effort to bring Ministers to the despatch box to account for this poorly thought out and ill-informed decision and explain why they have not listened to the overwhelming evidence presented in their own consultation.”

Campaigning MP: Tories must scrap cruel benefits cap

Alison Thewliss MP sitting at her desk in Parliament

Alison Thewliss, MP for Glasgow Central, has today called on the Tory Government to scrap its cruel and unfair household benefits cap, after a High Court judgement ruled that the cap was causing severe hardship to single parent families.

In a damning judgement on the cap, which restricts income obtained from benefits to £20,000 for households in Scotland, Mr Justice Collins stated that “real misery is being caused to no good purpose” in the ongoing implementation of the benefit cap. The judgement ruled that the cap should not apply to single parents with children under two, who would find it “impossible” to obtain exemption from the cap.

Following the announcement of the decision by the High Court, Ms Thewliss is now calling on the Tory Government to drop their appeal to the decision and abolish the benefit cap entirely.

Speaking after today’s decision by the court, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“Today’s judgement is yet another damning indictment on the Tories’ cruel and callous approach to reforming social security.

“It’s clear from the judgement handed down today that the Tories’ reforms are causing untold misery and plunging thousands of hard-working families into poverty. Far from helping those just about managing families that Theresa May is so fond of talking about, it’s clear from today’s judgement that Tory policies are hurting those very people the Prime Minister claims that she wants to help.

“It’s high time that Theresa May and the Tories recognised the real and serious damage that they are inflicting on families across Scotland. If they are truly serious about helping families that are just about making ends meet, they should honour today’s decision and ditch the unfair restrictions on benefits immediately.”

Two child policy and rape clause comes into force

A two child limit and rape clause for tax credits came into force today, which a campaigning MP says will unleash untold chaos and poverty for ‘just about managing families’ and rape survivors.

In July 2015, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced in his summer budget plans to slash child tax credit payments to just two children per family and implement a ‘non-consensual sex exemption’, dubbed the rape clause.

The new policy, which came into force at midnight last night, requires tax credit claimants, whose third or subsequent child was conceived as a result of rape, to prove this to social workers and health professionals in order to qualify for the exemption.

Faith leaders, women’s welfare groups, trade unions and child poverty campaigners have all condemned the policy, with many sexual violence support charities refusing to act as third party verifiers for the Government.

Alison Thewliss MP – who first uncovered the policy – said:

“Today the UK government stooped to a new low, even by their austerity obsessed standards. Minister are now unleashing untold chaos and poverty for some of the most vulnerable women and families in this country – indeed, the very “just about managing” families Theresa May spoke about upon taking office as Prime Minister.

“As of midnight last night, a two child limit on child tax credits and universal credit – which is tantamount to social engineering – came into force. It largely penalises families who are already in work, so this has very little to do with reducing the welfare bill but is, instead, an ideological attack on the lowest earning families in our society.

“Independent analysis shows that the two child limit alone will mean a loss of up to £2,800 every year per child for hardworking families. If you had a third child at 11.59pm last night, over the next 18 years you could be £50,000 better off than a family whose third child was born a minute later.

“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.

“What’s most horrifying is the rape clause, which is a vile policy in total chaos. Ministers are willing to give an exemption to those women whose third child was conceived as a result of rape, but they want them to prove this in a traumatic assessment from healthcare professionals and social workers. 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.

“The rape clause has been found, even today, as being totally unworkable, with wholly inadequate guidance sneaked out during the night. There has been no proper sexual violence awareness training for healthcare professionals and social workers who’ve been asked to arbitrate on whether a woman’s child was conceived as a result of rape.

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.”

SNP politicians welcome rejection of city centre student accommodation proposal

Angus Millar, SNP Councillor for Anderston/City ward and Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, have today welcomed the decision by Glasgow City Councillors to reject a student accommodation development in Glasgow city centre.

Ms Thewliss and Cllr Millar, along with many other local residents and organisations, objected to the proposals to build a large student accommodation complex directly in front of Glasgow School of Art’s iconic Mackintosh building. A decision on the application was originally deferred on 7th March to allow a further hearing to take place and enable residents to voice further concerns about the proposed development.

Following the hearing this morning, councillors decided to reject the application entirely.

Commenting on the committee’s decision, Cllr Angus Millar said:

“I am delighted that this application has been refused, having attended the hearing this morning to argue against these proposals, which were overwhelmingly opposed by the community.

“The Mackintosh Building is a unique part of Glasgow’s cultural heritage and any development on this site must respect and enhance the character of the area – unlike these deeply damaging plans to throw up yet more private student accommodation.

“Communities in the city centre are all too clear that their areas are saturated with unwanted private student housing, instead of the kind of positive development and mixed communities we should be creating.

“I am so pleased to congratulate the Garnethill community, the Art School and all of the others opposed to these damaging plans for their brilliant success in persuading the council to refuse planning permission.

Commenting on the application, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“Like many others, I was pleased to learn today that yet another monolithic student development, which would dwarf an iconic part of Glasgow’s skyline, has been refused planning permission.

“The decision to reject this application is very much welcome. I am delighted that councillors have taken on board the views of residents at today’s hearing, which further exposed the folly of these plans and highlighted the significant misgivings the local community have about this wholly inappropriate development.

“Whilst today’s decision is excellent news for many residents, it’s clear that significant concerns remain about the saturation of student accommodation in the city centre. Currently there is no means of establishing the need for this type of accommodation, this must be addressed urgently through a comprehensive housing strategy.

“The SNP understands that Glasgow needs a mixed approach to housing; voting for SNP councillors on 4th May will deliver the high quality housing Glasgow needs for future generations to come.”

Campaigning MP welcomes Lords’ condemnation of rape clause

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

Campaigning MP, Alison Thewliss, has today welcomed the publication of a House of Lords’ Delegated Legislation Committee report which raises serious concerns about the UK Government’s two child policy and rape clause.

The Committee has called for the Regulations, which are due to be enacted in under a week, to be examined again by the House of Commons. According to the report, the Committee have “cast doubt as to whether the system will be fully set up by 6 April, when the legislation takes effect, and on whether the exception relating to non-consensual conception can ever be made to work.”

Members of the Committee have also rounded on the DWP’s inadequate provision of training for the rape clause third party reporting mechanism, saying that the DWP “takes no account of the training that may be necessary for the assessors eventually chosen.”

This shocking criticism highlights the poor preparations that Tory Ministers have put in place for the policy, with no training offered for the hundreds of thousands of nurses, doctors and social workers who will be expected to judge whether or not a woman’s child has been conceived as a result of rape.

Commenting on the report, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“With just days left until the two child policy and rape clause comes into force, the House of Lords’ Delegated Legislation Committee have highlighted a raft of serious flaws that are embedded within this pernicious and medieval policy.

“The cruelty of expecting benefit claimants to have to re-live the ordeal of a rape in order to access their benefits to help pay the bills and feed their family is undeniable. This report could not be any clearer – Tory Ministers’ plans for the two child policy and rape clause will not work, forcing vulnerable women to relive the ordeal of rape just to claim a benefit.

“With time ticking away, Ministers must now wake up to the warnings that the two child policy and rape clause are ill-thought-out and that they will cause unbearable hardship to families. It’s not too late for the UK Government to change tack and ditch this unworkable and medieval policy and I urge Ministers to do so now.”