International Women’s Day 2016

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): When we miss out women from our legislatures, we make grave errors that seriously affect women and their families: we do not give the attention we should to maternal health and breastfeeding; we do not consider the impact of legislation on women; we leave women destitute without recourse to public funds; we get a Chancellor who believes that women paying the tampon tax for their own domestic abuse services is appropriate; and we see the introduction of welfare reforms such as the household payment in universal credit, the two-child tax credits policy and the rape clause.

In the brief time I have, I would like to concentrate on the two-child policy and the rape clause. It is a vindictive piece of policy that passes judgment and says the Government consider only the first two children worthy of support. To ask a woman to prove that her third child has been born as the result of rape to gain eligibility for child tax credits is utterly abhorrent. It stigmatises that woman and her child and is inconsistent with our obligations to treat children equally under the UN convention on the rights of the child.

There seems to be an assumption by some that rape just happens somehow. It is not acknowledged that it is most likely to happen to women already in coercive, abusive relationships. These women are in a particularly vulnerable place.

Drew Hendry (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP): My hon. Friend will be aware of the additional funding announced by Scotland’s First Minister today to help abused women get back into work. Does she agree that we need more of these initiatives across all Governments to help women in such positions?

Alison Thewliss: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend.

Members will be aware that I have been questioning the rape clause since last July’s Budget, but I have still not had a satisfactory answer to explain why this policy is required and how it will work. Lord Freud suggested on 27 January in the other place that proof that a woman’s third child was born of rape might not come via the criminal justice system, but instead come from a third-party official such as a GP or a social worker. This does not, however, resolve the problem. For many reasons, these women may not be able to tell their GPs about their circumstances, and there may be no social work involvement.

I am not sure how many women will end up claiming under this policy. If a woman is in a relationship and suffering domestic abuse, she might be putting herself at serious risk by making the claim in the first place. A similar issue arises in the household payments system and universal credit—if a woman requests a split payment, her partner will almost certainly know about it. She may well be doubly damned by this Government, because Lord Freud has also refused to allow an exemption to ​the two-child policy for women escaping abusive, controlling relationships, which is what the Scottish Government are trying to counteract.

There is still a distinct possibility that a woman could tell her story to the Department for Work and Pensions and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and not be believed. Those organisations are not known, after all, for taking people at their word. There is not yet guidance, and the Government will not say who they are consulting.

The two-child policy also fails completely to recognise the complex nature of families in 2016. A couple who have children from previous relationships will, under the two-child policy, lose their child tax credit eligibility when they come together. There is no detail yet on exactly how multiple births will be protected. There is no acknowledgement of the impact on those who, for religious reasons, may traditionally have larger families. That is hardly fitting for a Government who vaunt their “family test”.

I have heard it said that families should have only the children they can afford, but that point of view does not acknowledge the challenges that life presents. A family may have three children and be well able to afford them, but what if one parent loses their job, takes ill or dies? There is no safety net whatever in the two-child policy to cover that eventuality, particularly if the remaining parent is required to work less to care for the family.

The two-child policy is rigid, ineffectual and unnecessary. The rape clause stigmatises vulnerable women and their families. This is a policy made on the hoof for the sake of a Daily Mail headline and a Tory conference press release. It is tantamount to social engineering. My plea on International Women’s Day 2016 is that we reject this kind of policy—the two-child policy and the rape clause—and we support every woman and every child equally.