Today, Engender are calling on a little-known House of Lords committee to re-examine the so called ‘rape clause’ which limits tax credits and the child element of Universal Credit to two children unless a third or subsequent child was the result of rape. In a letter to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee of the House of Lords, we've joined with Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid, to challenge the basis of the legislation itself, and the manner in which it was covertly passed using a procedure that avoided parliamentary debate.
Our concerns include the impact of limiting social security to only two children, referred to as the ‘family cap’. This will deepen women and children’s poverty, particularly in families where having more children is common including in refugee families and in families from some religious communities.
We also highlight the traumatic impacts of the ‘rape clause’, forcing women to disclose sexual violence to the state, with the threat of deeper impoverishment if they refuse. The Department for Work and Pensions proposed that a network of 'third party referrers' would record women's disclosures and pass them to officials. With Rape Crisis Scotland refusing to be a 'third party referrer' because of the impact of the policy on survivors of rape, Scottish Women's Aid yet to hear briefing from officials but profoundly concerned about the threat to women's and children's human rights, and other listed professionals seemingly unaware of the policy, implementation plans are in disarray mere weeks ahead of the 6 April launch date.
The legislation was passed late on Wednesday last week after being added as a last-minute amendment, meaning there was no debate or vote in Parliament. The letter highlights this, saying:
“The draft legislation was pushed through the UK Parliament without debate, thereby shielding the Government from its obligation to explain its policy and the rationale behind it, and denying Members an opportunity to ask questions of the Government. At the least, Members should be made aware of the proposal which will require women to disclose sexual violence to gain access to social security, and be given an opportunity to debate the policy and its intended objective.”
The Committee have the option to draw special attention to the substance and the process of the bill, including inviting the House to pursue questions on the policy.
“Both the so-called ‘family cap’ and the ‘rape clause’ are abhorrent policies which will cause financial and emotional harm to women. This issue has been raised 25 times in the chamber by Alison Thewliss MP, and yet this decision was forced through without due scrutiny or debate by Parliament. We hope the Lords will use this opportunity to urge Parliament to reconsider this inhumane and undemocratic decision.”
“Rape Crisis Scotland has serious concerns about the impact of this policy on rape survivors in Scotland. Forcing rape survivors to disclose sexual violence in order to access benefits is inhumane. We cannot support this policy.”
“Scottish Women’s Aid has just been approached by DWP to discuss implementation. We have agreed to have a discussion and will do so. Our existing stance, however, is that this policy violates numerous human rights under existing international human rights mechanisms and therefore cannot be made “acceptable” to anyone who values women’s and children’s dignity and rights. We know that the Women’s Aid groups in Scotland will always offer and provide any support they can to women experiencing domestic and sexual assault, and Scottish Women’s Aid’s stance in no way interferes with that commitment.”
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