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.”

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.”

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.”

Rape clause emergency debate application turned down

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

SNP MP, Alison Thewliss, has expressed her frustration at the decision of the Speaker of the House of Commons to reject her application for an emergency debate on the UK Government’s proposed rape clause, due to come into force on Thursday 6th April 2017.

Speaking from Westminster after invoking Standing Order 24 and calling for an emergency debate – which was rejected – Ms Thewliss said she would not give up the fight to protect vulnerable women and families. Tory Ministers last week quietly used a negative statutory instrument to try and railroad the rape clause onto the statute books without a parliamentary debate or vote.

The Government has stated that it will expect nurses, doctors and social workers to act as third party arbitrators. This means that public service workers will have to judge whether or not a child has been conceived as a result of rape, simply in order for a woman to be exempt from the two child policy. Recent parliamentary answers given to Alison Thewliss MP suggest that the over 660,000 nurses, doctors and social workers in the UK have not been given adequate sexual violence awareness training to exercise the exemption.

Commenting after Mr Speaker rejected her application, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“For 18 months, I’ve pursued this Tory Government relentlessly on its plan to introduce a pernicious two child policy and medieval rape clause. Today’s decision not to allow the emergency debate is incredibly frustrating, but I won’t just give up.

“In determining that my application did not merit an emergency debate, the Speaker noted that I had tabled an arcane motion of prayer to annul the law – indeed, at the advice of Commons clerks. What the Speaker did not say was that the last time such a motion of prayer worked was in 1979. This is just one example of the many ways in which the procedures of the House of Commons are so arcane, irrelevant and medieval that it fails the people we, as MPs, seek to represent.

“The clock is ticking; the rape clause is due to come into force in the next couple of weeks but I’ll keep on working to make this Government think again.”

MP to invoke rare Standing Order for emergency Commons debate

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

An MP will invoke a rarely used Standing Order in the House of Commons today (Monday), with a view to forcing an emergency parliamentary debate on the UK Government’s “chaotic” two child policy and rape clause – due to come into force in just 18 days. Ministers want to limit payment of tax credits two children per family. The Government has designed an exemption to the policy for rape survivors, dubbed ‘the rape clause’, which will mean rape victims will need to prove their child was born as a result of sexual violence in order to qualify for tax credits.

Tory Ministers last week quietly used a negative statutory instrument to try and railroad the rape clause onto the statute books without a parliamentary debate or vote.

The Government has stated that it will expect nurses, doctors and social workers to act as third party arbitrators. This means that public service workers will have to judge whether or not a child has been conceived as a result of rape, simply in order for a woman to be exempt from the two child policy.

Recent parliamentary answers given to Alison Thewliss MP suggest that the over 660,000 nurses, doctors and social workers in the UK have not been given adequate sexual violence awareness training to exercise the exemption.

Alison Thewliss is today invoking the House of Commons Standing Order 24 in a bid to force the issue onto the floor of the House. She has written to the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, indicating her application for a 3 hour emergency debate. Under the provisions of Standing Order 24, the Speaker will have to make a ruling on Ms Thewliss’ application from the chair today (Monday).

Alison Thewliss MP said:

“With just days until this policy comes into force, this Government is about to unleash utter chaos and untold distress in the public service. This will be in addition to the trauma that rape victims will need endure as they recount and relive the brutal sexual violence they experienced.

“As it currently stands, doctors, nurses and social workers are going to be asking survivors of sexual abuse to prove they were raped in order to receive tax credits. They’ve been given no guidance, no training and no advice as to how this should be done. That is truly frightening.

“By invoking Standing Order 24 today, I am pleading with the Speaker to grant an emergency debate on the floor of the House, so we can shine a very bright light on the horror that is about to unfold for rape victims.

“At every turn, this Government has ducked and dived, they’ve used every trick in the book to sneak this policy through without debate. In light of the issue around lack of training and guidance on this serious matter, I am hopeful that the Speaker will grant this urgent debate.”

Government tries to sneak rape clause onto the statute books without vote or debate

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

A campaigning MP has accused the UK Government of trying to sneak through its medieval rape clause and pernicious two child policy without a vote or debate.

Late yesterday afternoon, the UK Government quietly published the statutory instrument – under the negative procedure – which would allow the policy to automatically become law without debate unless there is an objection from either of the Houses of Parliament.

Although Ms Thewliss has now tabled a motion of prayer for annulment, which was signed by a cross-party group of MPs, it is highly unlikely that this would be able to stop the negative procedure, and allow the policy to come into law. The last time such a statutory instrument was annulled by the Commons using a prayer for annulment was in 1979.

Part of the MP’s concern relates to the lack of training for the hundreds of thousands of healthcare and social work staff the Government intends to use as third party professionals. It is intended that they will judge whether a woman’s third child was born as a result of rape and thereby qualifies for an exemption to the two child policy. With just days until the policy comes into force, there is no evidence of sexual violence training having been given to public sector workers.

Commenting, Alison Thewliss MP said:

“Using such an underhand parliamentary tactic to railroad the rape clause into law is just the final insult this Government could possibly dish out.

“Not only did Ministers sneak out their shameful consultation response as the eyes of the world were watching Donald Trump’s inauguration, but they’re now trying to put the rape clause on the statute books without a vote or debate, let alone any detailed scrutiny by MPs.

“The Government must accept this policy is unworkable as well as immoral. With just days until nurses, doctors and social workers are expected to verify whether women had their third child as the result of rape, it’s clear there’s been no sexual violence training for those working with such vulnerable women. This is frankly astonishing, especially when you consider that the Government is trying to railroad this through using medieval parliamentary procedures.

“This fight isn’t over yet. I’ll do everything in my power to ensure Parliament gets its say on this cruel policy.”

Budget: Missed opportunity to scrap rape clause

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

Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, has expressed her “sheer desolation” following the Chancellor’s budget statement today (Wednesday).  Despite making his budget statement to Parliament on International Women’s Day, Phillip Hammond MP did not use the budget as an opportunity to scrap the Government’s controversial rape clause and two child policy.  The Glasgow MP said today’s “missed opportunity” was an insult to women all across the UK who were celebrating International Women’s Day.

In the George Osborne’s budget of July 2015 – and buried within the small print – the UK Government announced plans to restrict tax credit payments to two children per family and force women to provide evidence of exceptional circumstances, such as rape, to claim tax credits for a third child from April 2017.

Commenting from Westminster after the Chancellor delivered his budget speech to Parliament, Ms Thewliss said:

“Today’s budget was a real missed opportunity for Phillip Hammond and Theresa May to do the honourable thing and scrap the UK Government’s pernicious two child policy and medieval rape clause.

“I cannot begin to describe the sheer desolation I felt when I looked at the UK Government’s Red Book today of all days – International Women’s Day – and saw that this callous Chancellor is still intending to make women prove they’ve been raped in order to receive tax credits.

“I’ve spent over a year and a half campaigning against this appalling policy, and I still cannot believe that any Government would think it’s acceptable to put women and their families through such incredible pain and misery.

“Although they’ve not yet laid the necessary statutory instrument before Parliament, it’s looking increasingly likely that the UK Government is planning to implement the rape clause on the April 6th.  I urge the Tories, even at this late stage, to reconsider their cruel, anti-women policy.”