Proof of rape before being awarded tax credits will only humiliate already victimised women say charities
Women’s groups in Scotland have joined in condemnation of a so-called rape clause which forces new mothers to prove they were raped to claim tax credits for more than two children.
Leading charities including Rape Crisis Scotland (RCS), Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA) and Engender now say they will refuse to “collude” with any scheme to assess entitlement for rape victims.
New laws on tax credit entitlement, which come into effect this week, include a clause restricting claimants to a maximum of two children, with exceptions for multiple births and for women who could show that their third or subsequent child was conceived as a result of rape.
It means women who have been raped must be assessed by a “professional third party” – either health workers, police, social workers or rape charities.
The regulations were put into law through a statutory instrument – little known legislation allowing laws to be changed without the UK parliament’s approval.
Yet despite the regulation coming into force tomorrow, there is no indication of how a woman who has been raped can go about claiming an exemption and no advice, information or training has been given to the women’s groups expecting to be involved.
SNP MP Alison Thewliss (pictured above) first highlighted the issue of the clause, saying it was an “underhand parliamentary tactic”.
She also described as “frankly astonishing” the fact that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP ) had introduced the scheme apparently without having trained any of the people who will judge whether someone claiming the exemption has been raped.
Sandy Brindley of RCS said: “It should go without saying that government policy should actively protect women who have experienced violence or abuse, rather than risking re-traumatising victims of rape and coercion by forcing them to disclose in order to receive benefits.
“We have severe concerns both about the direct impact of this policy on rape survivors, and the risk of a fundamentally changed relationship between women and those who work to support them should local centre’s participate.
“A choice between potential poverty or being forced to disclose rape is no choice at all, and this is why the rape crisis movement in Scotland is unable to support this policy.”
Dr Marsha Scott of SWA commented: “We’ve made no secret of our views on this policy; forcing a woman to disclose that her child was born of rape or coercion in any circumstance is ethically unjustifiable.
“The numerous unanswered questions about how this disclosure might be understood and used by other actors in the benefits and criminal justice system are really worrying.
“If a woman later goes to police with a rape charge, will failure to apply for the exemption be seen as evidence that she is lying about the rape? What will disclosing that information mean for the child?”
The ‘family cap’ and ‘rape clause’ must both be scrapped - Emma Ritch
Emma Ritch, executive director of Engender Scotland added: “The so-called family cap amounts to state intervention in women's reproductive rights; limiting child tax credit or the child element of Universal Credit to two children will impoverish women already hit by ‘welfare reform’.
“In addition to being a clear breach of women's rights, the clause which allows an exemption for children as a result of rape is unworkable.
“We applaud the principled decision that Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid have taken to refuse to comply with a policy that is coercive and damaging to women.
“The family cap and rape clause must both be scrapped, and we’ll continue working with sister organisations in Scotland and across the UK to resist implementation of this ideological cut to women's incomes.”
A UK government spokesman said: “It’s absolutely right that we have the right exemptions in place and we have thought carefully about how we will work with charities and health and social care professionals to support victims of rape. We will be publishing guidance shortly.”