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”.

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 UK Government’s “rape clause” proposals

During DWP Questions today I challenged Iain Duncan Smith to scrap his ill-thought out plans to force women who have a third child as a consequence of being raped to prove this to a Government official in order to receive tax credit payments.

Asking women who have been raped to relive such a traumatic experience and – worse still – justify their child’s birth is appalling and has got to be the lowest this Government has stooped yet.

I’ve met with a number of women’s welfare organisations and rape crisis groups who are rightly calling for the Government to bin these ill thought out plans. SNP action has already led to u-turns on tax credit policy and I’ll be campaigning hard to make sure this policy is the next to be put through the Downing Street shredder.